GP practice oesophageal cancer test in final trial stage

GPs could soon test high-risk patients for oesophageal cancer without having to refer them to hospital, as final trials began on a test to diagnose Barrett's oesophagus that could be rolled out to practices.

Cytosponge (Photo: University of Cambridge)
Cytosponge (Photo: University of Cambridge)

The Cytosponge test will allow GP surgeries to test for Barrett’s oesophagus – a condition that increases risk of oesophageal cancer – within primary care.

A Cancer Research UK-funded trial launched on Tuesday marks the final step before the test is adopted into mainstream practice, and will run across 150 practices covering 9,000 patients.

To conduct the Cytosponge test, patients swallow a small sponge-containing capsule attached to a string. Upon reaching the stomach, the capsule dissolves, exposing the sponge.

Oesophageal cancer

A nurse then pulls on the string to drag it up through the oesophagus, allowing it to collect cells from the oesophageal lining for future analysis as it is removed.

Researchers, led from the University of Cambridge, hope the trial will examine how cost effective the process is – as well as gauge whether patients are prepared to take the test.

It is considered less invasive than a traditional endoscopy and could be conducted in-practice, streamlining the whole process and potentially driving up diagnosis rates.

Half of trial patients will receive standard care, while the remaining half will be offered the Cytosponge test on top of this. Patients with a positive Cytosponge test will receive the standard endoscopy test later to confirm their results.

GP referral

RCGP cancer lead Dr Richard Roope, also a GP expert at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘GPs are always looking for new ways to ensure patients receive the best possible care.

‘Trialling a new, less invasive technique to test for Barrett’s oesophagus means that many patients each year could be saved from experiencing an endoscopy which can be uncomfortable.

‘Around three in every 100 people with Barrett’s oesophagus go on to develop oesophageal cancer so techniques that help us to prevent or diagnose the disease earlier are vital.’

Lead author Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald said: ‘We’re excited to see this being tried out in GP surgeries. It’s a safe way to test for Barrett’s oesophagus and we hope that this will make it easier for GPs to identify patients who have an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer without having to refer them to hospital.’

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