A ‘sponge’ test aimed at diagnosing Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that can lead to oesophageal cancer, has reduced the reliance on invasive endoscopy procedures in low-risk patients.

sponge testThe test, trialled by the NHS, involves swallowing a small vitamin-sized, capsule-shaped device containing a sponge that collects cell samples for analysis. This capsule sponge test offers a convenient and less invasive alternative to endoscopy, allowing patients to undergo the procedure quickly and without sedation.

Evaluation of the NHS pilot, which tested over 8,500 patients, revealed promising outcomes. Nearly eight out of 10 patients who completed the test did not require further testing, thereby freeing up endoscopy capacity for higher-risk patients.

Barrett’s oesophagus is a precursor to oesophageal cancer, and early detection is crucial for improving patient outcomes. The capsule sponge test offers a cost-effective and efficient means of diagnosing the condition, saving approximately £400 per patient compared to endoscopy-only approaches.

Patients who tested positive for Barrett’s oesophagus through the capsule sponge test had a higher prevalence of the condition compared to those with negative results. This underscores the test’s effectiveness in identifying at-risk patients and facilitating timely intervention.


Dr. Danielle Morris, a consultant gastroenterologist involved in the pilot, outlined the benefits of the capsule sponge test, noting its ability to avoid unnecessary endoscopy procedures and reduce waiting lists for diagnostic tests.

“The test is performed by a single trained practitioner in an outpatient setting, so it is very resource light compared to gastroscopy, and our patients are very supportive of the service – with almost nine in 10 patients preferring the capsule sponge to a gastroscopy,” said Morris.

The success of the NHS pilot highlights the potential of the capsule sponge test as a valuable tool in oesophageal cancer screening. Developed by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald at the University of Cambridge, the test represents a significant advancement in early cancer detection.

In a survey of over 350 patients who had the capsule sponge test, patients often said they would recommend the test to a friend or family member, while 94 per cent of patients reported experiencing only mild or no pain at all.


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