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Cytosponge test could replace endoscopies for people with Barrett’s oesophagus

A ‘sponge on a string’ pill test can identify people with Barrett’s oesophagus who are at low risk of developing oesophageal cancer, say University of Cambridge researchers. 

A ‘sponge on a string’ pill test can identify people with Barrett’s oesophagus who are at low risk of developing oesophageal cancer, say University of Cambridge researchers. 


Researchers found that rather than having expensive endoscopies at hospital, the test
could be carried out by a GP. Picture: iStock

The study saw 468 people with Barrett’s oesophagus given a cytosponge test. This involves the patient swallowing a small pill attached to a string, which expands into a small sponge when it reaches the stomach. This is then slowly pulled back up the throat using the string, collecting cells from the oesophagus for analysis. 

The researchers found that the cytosponge test, together with additional laboratory tests, identified that 35% of people with Barrett’s in the study were at low risk of developing oesophageal cancer. 

Reducing anxiety

They said that rather than having expensive endoscopies at hospital, the test could be carried out by a GP and the patient monitored. This would save patients’ time and reduce the anxiety and discomfort of having an endoscopy. 

Lead researcher Rebecca Fitzgerald said: ‘Most people who have Barrett’s oesophagus will not go on to develop oesophageal cancer, but at the moment there is no way of identifying who will and who won’t. Our study is the first step in using the cytosponge to answer this question.’ 

You can watch a video of the cytosponge test here.


Fitzgerald R et al (2016) Risk stratification of Barrett’s oesophagus using a non-endoscopic sampling method coupled with a biomarker panel: a cohort study. The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology. doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(16)30118-2

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