Simple test developed for fastest growing cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers in Cambridge have developed a simple test for cancer of the oesophagus, the form of the disease that is increasing fastest in the western world.

The new technique, developed with funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) uses a spongy pill attached to a piece of string to detect early indicators of cancer.

Patients simply swallow the pill, which is then pulled back out, gently scraping cells from the gut. The procedure is said to be almost completely painless.

Diagnosing cancer of the oesophagus currently relies on fibre-optic cameras to look for signs of the disease in a patient's gullet.

Due to the risk and expense of the procedure, it is not often used and many cancers of the oesophagus are not detected at an early stage.

"If we were able to diagnose it at that stage we may be able to cure them - indeed if we get people at the very early stages the cure rate is 80 per cent," researcher Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald of the MRC Centre told the BBC.

Using the new method, patient Alan Bridge was one of the first to undergo the procedure.

"I didn't even feel it," he said. "They told me that it would hurt a bit when it was pulled out, but I didn't even know it was there."

The technique will not be ready for widespread use for a number of years.

The incidence of cancer of the oesophagus has more than tripled over the last twenty years.

Cancer Research UK’s Professor Ron Lackey, who also works at the Unit in Cambridge, said it was a trend that is likely to continue.

"The thing that concerns us in particular at present is that its increased extraordinarily rapidly in the western world in the western world.

"It is the fastest growing cancer at present, and its not clear why.

"One possibility is that acid indigestion caused by high pressure lifestyles is a factor."