Cytosponge - a sponge on a thread

Cytosponge is one of the names of a device comprising a capsule attached to a thread. After being swallowed, the capsule dissolves inside the stomach; the sponge within it expands and the device is gently pulled back up the oesophagus (food pipe) collecting cells along the way.

The sponge and cells collected are sent for analysis to check for Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that sometimes develops prior to oesophageal cancer.

The technology allows possible cancers to be detected at an earlier stage than usual, as symptoms often don't show until later when the cancer is more advanced. 

It also means fewer people have to undergo a more invasive endoscopy test. 

In the East of England, tests were piloted in some hospital trusts across the region as part of Project DELTA,  aiming to improve diagnosis of oesophageal cancer, using algorithms to identify those at most risk and offering them the sponge on a thread test. 

In partnership with Project DELTA, Heartburn Cancer UK introduced a mobile diagnostic unit to screen for oesophageal cancer in a community setting. This technology had previously only been available through some hospitals for the monitoring of Barrett's and investigating people with reflux, so this was an important step in making the  technology more widely available. Videos have been created by Heartburn Cancer UK to inform people about the Cytosponge technology and the mobile diagnostics unit. 

The unit started in June 2021 in Cambridge, with most patients having been selected by their GP according to their medical history. It was also made available in Chelmsford and Eye, testing hundreds of patients referred by their GPs as well as people who self referred because they had symptoms of reflux or heartburn and were regularly taking over the counter medication for these symptoms.

Since January 2021, the East of England Cancer Alliance has been supporting a national trial across the NHS to rapidly prioritise patients most at risk of developing oesophageal cancer. See NHS England » Treatment, innovation and personalised care. Six NHS Trusts across the region are taking part and results of this national evaluation are expected later in 2023. 

Further information on the development of Cytosponge technology was reported by the BBC here, and on the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre website.

Further information available on the NICE website

Findings of the national cytosponge evaluation (2023) are available here.