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“Sponge on a String” slashes waiting times for oesophageal cancer diagnostic tests

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26 February 2024

The innovative Cytosponge tool previously trialled in GP Practices is now reducing the long NHS waiting times experienced for endoscopies to diagnose precursor to cancer

An exclusive report in The Guardian highlighted how the NHS testing of the tool is helping to reduce the long delays in vital tests for Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that increases the risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Cancer of the oesophagus, part of the body’s digestive system that connects the mouth to the stomach, is one of the deadliest forms of cancer with about 9,300 people in the UK diagnosed annually and approximately 22 people per day dying from the disease.

In England, over a third of the patients on the waiting list for an endoscopy test were still waiting beyond the 6-week target for referral. Data from the current trial in hospitals across the UK indicated that almost eight out of ten people who are assessed using the method do not then need to join the waiting list for an endoscopy. The Cytosponge tool is far quicker to access, much less invasive as well as being a significantly cheaper option. The increased efficiency offered by the tests could reduce the number of late diagnoses and save lives.

The novel test was sampled previously in randomised control trial in GP Practices across the country including London. The results were published in the Lancet and showed both encouraging acceptability and benefit to patients with early diagnosis.

Cancer Research UK has helped to fund the development of the Cytosponge. The senior strategic evidence manager, Dr Lyndsy Ambler, said:

“The capsule sponge test has become one of the most exciting early detection tools to emerge in recent years. This evaluation adds to the evidence showing that it is helping the NHS to free up endoscopy capacity and could lead to improvements in reducing late diagnosis of oesophageal cancer.”

Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive, said:

“Thousands of people have now benefited from this incredibly efficient test on the NHS. While the sponge on a string is small in size, it can make a big difference for patients.”

Further details can be read in the exclusive Guardian article written by Denis Campbell, Health policy editor: Sponge on a string reduces long waits for diagnostic test for cancer

Information on Oesophageal Cancer is available from Cancer Research UK

A Research Timeline of the Cytosponge development is available to read from the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.




Image: CRUK