If successful, the new test could see routine screening introduced in the NHS

Researchers at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge have announced the launch of the BEST4 trial to evaluate a capsule sponge test to prevent oesophageal cancer.

Funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Research, the capsule sponge could see routine screening introduced into the NHS if successful.

Responsible for around 9,200 new cases every year in the UK, oesophageal cancer occurs in the long, hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach, known as the oesophagus.

The BEST4 trial, launched at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, is investigating whether the pill-on-a-thread test can be used to screen or monitor those most at risk of the disease.

The ten-minute test is used for Barrett’s oesophagus, sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition, which is usually identified via an endoscopy and a biopsy at a hospital, following a GP referral.

The process is time-consuming, unpleasant and invasive for patients, as well as costly for the healthcare system.

The new trial will occur in two stages: BEST4 Surveillance and BEST4 Screening.

In the first stage of the trial, involving people already diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus, researchers will evaluate whether the capsule sponge test could replace endoscopies to monitor their condition.

All patients will receive examinations and results throughout the trial, which will be used to assess their risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

The second stage, which is set to open in summer 2024, will recruit 120,000 people over the age of 55 who are being treated long-term for heartburn, a common symptom of Barrett’s oesophagus.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director, research and innovation, Cancer Research UK, said: “Around 59% of all oesophageal cancer cases are preventable. Yet endoscopy, the gold standard for diagnosing and treating this cancer, is labour-intensive.

“We need better tools and tests to monitor people most at risk.

“The capsule sponge will mean [patients] can benefit from kinder treatment options if their cancer is caught at a much earlier stage.”