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Cambridge GPs first to offer 'sponge on a string' cancer check

A new device to detect the early signs of cancer is being offered for the first time to GP patients in the UK.

The cytosponge has been developed by researchers from Addenbrooke's Hospital and the University of Cambridge as a quick and simply way of checking patients who may be at risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

The 10 minute procedure has been trialled in hospital and, as part of a pilot scheme, is now being offered to GP patients in Cambridgeshire.

Liz Chipchase, cytosponge patient

Liz Chipchase, cytosponge patient


Liz Chipchase was one of the first patients to trial the cytosponge, after being treated for years for acid reflex/heartburn.

To her surprise, her cytosponge test revealed she had the early stages oesophageal cancer.

With only 17% of patients living beyond five years or more after a diagnosis, Liz says early detection saved her life.

How does the cytosponge work?

The cytosponge

The procedure involves the patient swallowing a pill on a string, which once inside the stomach, expands into a small sponge.

After a few minutes the sponge is pulled up through the oesophagus using the string. The cells it collects along the way can be checked in a lab for abnormalities.

Research shows that 59% of cases of cancer of the oesophagus in the UK are preventable, meaning the new test has the potential to both cut waiting lists and save lives.

Early diagnosis is key to survival for oesophageal cancer. The cytosponge and lab test is a game-changer

Dr James Morrow, Granta Medical Practices

Dr James Morrow, managing partner at Granta Medical Practices says: “At present, we have to send people we’re concerned about to hospital for an endoscopy. But this test is a quicker, cheaper, easier and a less invasive way to look for and monitor people who could be at risk of this dangerous, but often preventable, cancer.”

Testing will be carried out in a mobile unit, with the first patients expected at Shelford GP surgery on Friday 11 June.

After Cambridge, the mobile testing unit will move on to surgeries in Essex and then Suffolk, with the aim of testing being available across the UK in the future.

It's funded and equipped jointly by Heartburn Cancer UK (HCUK) and Innovate UK funded Project DELTA.

Heartburn Cancer UK (HCUK), promotes awareness and champions early oesophageal cancer diagnosis.