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Early detection of cancer of esophagus -- new alternative to endoscopy

Barrett's esophagus is an alteration of the esophageal tissue and can occur in people who have had heartburn over a considerable period of time. It is the main risk factor for esophageal cancer. A significant number of those who develope Barrett's esophagus (about 10%) go on to develop esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, once cancer is diagnosed, there is only a one in ten chance of survival after five years.

A new test called the Cytosponge is more comfortable than the current screening method, endoscopy, and does not require hospitalization or sedation.  It may also be more accurate.

In the study, published today in the British Medical Journal, the patients were diagnosed by swallowing a capsule with a string attached and taking a drink of water. The device then dissolved in the stomach to expand into a very small sponge-like mesh . Five minutes later, the expanded Cytosponge was removed through the mouth by pulling on the string, collecting cells for analysis. These cells were stained with a molecular marker or flag which allowed the researchers to identify Barrett's cells, if present, under the microscope. 

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