Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK have developed a new genetic test that may help diagnose oesophageal cancer up to eight years before symptoms appear.

Upon analysis of tissue samples from patients with Barrett’s oesophagus, the researchers retrospectively identified predictive genetic markers in 94% of people who later went on to develop early signs of the disease.

The makers were detected in samples obtained during endoscopies for Barrett’s oesophagus over 15 years, several years before symptoms appeared.

To develop the test, researchers compared markers of 45 patients who developed early signs of the cancer with 45 of those who did not.

Designed to closely monitor early signs of disease development in people with high-risk genetic patterns, the test is intended to enable effective treatment by diagnosing the cancer early.

The test could also potentially decrease the number of endoscopies that majority of people at low risk had to undergo for the detection of oesophageal cancer.

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“The test is expected to help in better understanding of the disease, predict its development and aid in the development of new treatments.”

University of Cambridge MRC Cancer Unit researcher professor Rebecca Fitzgerald said: “Many people with oesophageal cancer are diagnosed when their disease has already spread and is harder to treat.

“Testing for these new markers during regular checks could help identify people who have a high chance of developing oesophageal cancer.”

The researchers intend to evaluate the test in clinical trials to determine its ability for early diagnosis of the cancer.

In addition to identification, the test is expected to help in better understanding of the disease, predict its development and aid in the development of new treatments.