A new Cancer Research UK trial involving more than 1,000 people has shown that oesophageal cancer can be diagnosed with a simple and cost-efficient sponge-on-a-string test.
Claimed to be a potential replacement to traditional endoscopy, the trial involved inviting more than 600 patients with Barrett's Oesophagus to swallow the new cytosponge capsule and to undergo an endoscopy.
Barrett's Oesophagus is a condition that can sometimes lead to oesophageal cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, approximately 500 more people with symptoms such as reflux and persistent heartburn performed the same tests.
The cytosponge capsule, which is swallowed and then retrieved from the mouth by pulling on the string, expands in the body to collect cells on its way out. Cytosponge was found to be well tolerated, safe and accurate at diagnosing Barrett's Oesophagus.
In the trial, more than 94% of people swallowed the sponge and reported no serious side effects.
Lead author professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, based at MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge said: "The cytosponge test is safe, acceptable and has very good accuracy for diagnosing Barrett's Oesophagus.
"It should be considered as an alternative to endoscopy for diagnosing the condition and could possibly be used as a screening test in primary care."
Barrett's Oesophagus causes acid to come back up the food pipe from the stomach, causing symptoms such as indigestion and heartburn. One in ten people with this condition later develop cancer of the food pipe.
People with these symptoms may develop changes in the cells that line the oesophagus.
Cancer Research UK head of health information Dr Julie Sharp said: "These results are very encouraging and it will be good news if such a simple and cheap test can replace endoscopy for Barrett's Oesophagus.
"Death rates are unacceptably high in oesophageal cancer so early diagnosis is vital. Tackling oesophageal cancer is a priority for Cancer Research UK, and research such as this will help doctors to diagnose people who are at risk quickly and easily."