A test that can detect oesophageal cancer at an earlier stage than current methods should be made more widely available to prevent deaths, charities have said.

The capsule sponge test, previously known as Cytosponge, involves a patient swallowing a dissolvable pill on a string. The pill then releases a sponge which collects cells from the oesophagus as it is retrieved.

The test can detect abnormalities that form as part of a condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus, which makes a person more likely to develop oesophageal cancer.

In the UK 9,300 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer a year, according to Cancer Research. The disease is difficult to detect because the symptoms for the cancer are not easily recognisable – and can be mistaken for indigestion – until a it is at an advanced stage.

The disease has a 10-year survival rate of 12%, a rate that rises to 55% if the cancer is detected early, at stage one.

The capsule sponge test can detect the cancer at an earlier stage than the current methods, such as an endoscopy, used to diagnose oesophageal cancer. However, it is only currently available to higher-risk patients as an alternative to endoscopy as part of NHS pilot schemes.

Cancer Research UK is working with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) on a trial that will recruit 120,000 people to see if the capsule sponge test can reduce deaths from oesophageal cancer. If successful, the test could be rolled out more widely.

Mimi McCord, the founder of Heartburn Cancer UK, who lost her husband, Mike, to oesophageal cancer in 2002, said: “Cancer of the oesophagus is a killer that can hide in plain sight. People don’t always realise it, but not all heartburn is harmless. While they keep on treating the symptoms, the underlying cause might be killing them.”

The charity is calling for the wider adoption of the capsule sponge test in order for patients to be diagnosed earlier and given a better chance of survival. “We have a test. We know it works. People are dying while we wait to make it widely available,” McCord said.

Dr Lyndsy Ambler, a senior strategic evidence manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Around 59% of all oesophageal cancer cases are preventable. Yet endoscopy, the gold standard for diagnosing this cancer, is labour intensive.

“We need better tools and tests to diagnose oesophageal cancer and to identify and monitor people most at risk.

“It’s already making a difference in pilots within the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales to reduce backlogs for endoscopy from the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), said: “Our guideline committee identified Cytosponge as a tool which could benefit the NHS for diagnosing dysplasia and cancer, but the quality of the evidence was not sufficient to support its use at present.

“We are aware of two ongoing trials and are hopeful they could produce the evidence required to fully appraise the clinical and cost effectiveness of this potentially useful tool.”

2024-02-05T00:15:07Z dg43tfdfdgfd