New Way to Test for Esophageal Cancer

A new way to test for esophageal cancer is being studied.  Researchers are using a something called a Cytosponge to test tissue cells from the esophagus to detect esophageal cancer.  The Cytosponge is a vitamin like capsule that is attached to a sting. The physician will have the patient swallow the capsule while holding onto the string.  The capsule stays in the esophagus and while it is there is dissolves and releases a sponge.  The physician then pulls the string out of the patient’s esophagus and out of the mouth.  As the string is pulled out of the esophagus, the sponge is swabbed with cells from the esophagus.  The cells are then examined to look for Barrett’s esophagus.  Barrett’s esophagus is commonly found in people who have chronic acid reflux.  People with Barrett’s esophagus are at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

The current method of testing for Barrett’s esophagus is performing an EGD and taking biopsies of the esophagus. The physician performing the EGD is able to tell if a patient has Barrett’s esophagus by the look of the esophagus.  Barrett’s esophagus changes the look of lining of the esophagus so that it resembles the lining of the intestine.   The biopsies that are taken during the EGD are then examined by a pathologist to look for abnormal cells or precancerous cells.

With the Cytosponge procedure, pathologists are able to examine the cells of the esophagus under a microscope and the DNA calls and more accurately pinpoint the cancerous and precancerous cells in the esophagus.  Researchers say that the Cytosponge will likely be available health care professionals in 5 years.

1. “Sponge Test a Low-Cost, Easier Way to Spot Signs of Cancer.”  CBS News.  November 21, 2014.  Web 29 July 2015.
2.  “Unusual Capsule Could Help Spot Esophagus Cancer.”  WebMD.  WebMD Health News.  July 21, 2015.  Web 29 July 2015.