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  1. ITV Report

Sponge could help catch cancer early

The Cytosponge collects cells from the throat and gullet Photo: University of Cambridge

Of all the different types of cancer, those that attack the throat and oesophagus are among the most difficult to treat because they are often caught too late.

Now scientists in Cambridge have come up with a simple and inexpensive test, which could be done in GP surgeries when even the most minor symptoms first occur.

The Cytosponge is about the size of a ten-pence piece. Patients swallow it in a pill, which then dissolves in the stomach releasing a sponge on a string. The sponge is then pulled out, collecting cells from the gullet and throat on the way back back which can then be analysed for signs of cancer.

"The whole test takes 5 minutes. You've swallowed it down, the sponge has popped out and a nurse will then just pull it out. That process of pulling it out sounds bit horrible but it takes only a few seconds, will just make your eyes water and it's over and done with and much easier than endoscopy, much more cost effective and really not a bad test from the patient's point of view."

– Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, University of Cambridge

Cancer Research UK says that on average more than 700 people are diagnosed with throat cancer in our region each year, and more than 8000 across Britain. It is the 6th most deadly cancer, with just 15% of those diagnosed surviving for five years after diagnosis.

Like with many cancers, early detection can greatly increase the chances of survival. Symptoms can include weight loss, difficulty swallowing, acid reflux or a chronic cough. For more information on what to look for click here.

At the moment patients with possible symptoms are referred to hospital for testing. It's done using an endoscopy, where patients are sedated and then a throat put down their throat to analyse cells.

The CytoSponge costs £25, and could be done by GPs when any possible symptoms first appear. This could mean testing is quicker, less intrusive and also that more people are tested overall, bringing earlier diagnosis and improved survival rates.

For more information on the Cytosponge click here.