New National Screening Programme Supports Cancer Diagnosis

Scotland is the first country in the world to implement the use of Cytosponge™ across all mainland NHS Boards in a national screening programme.

The innovative ‘sponge on a string’ device, which has been piloted in number of areas including NHS Forth Valley, is non-aerosol generating, non-invasive and does not require sedation. In just 10 minutes, Barrett’s Oesophagus patients can be screened for oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC) or its pre-curser dysplasia. It has been fast tracked into clinical practice across the country to help reduce risks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Early detection of OAC can significantly improve survival reates the screening programme has already had life-saving outcomes as it has helped identify cancerous cells in 12 patients in Scotland during the pandemic.

Cytosponge™ is a small pill sized device on a string that can be easily swallowed, without the need for sedation. The outer coating of the device dissolves in the patient’s stomach releaving a small sponge like device which collects cells from the entire length of the oesophagus as it removed via the string attachment. These cells are then sent to the lab for examination.

NHS Forth Valley Nurse Endoscopist, Julie MacDonald, who works at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, said: “We have been using this procedure locally in Forth Valley for patients with acid reflux and Barrett’s Oesophagus since October 2020. It is a simple, safe, reliable test that can be conducted in an outpatient setting. It is a less time consuming procedure for both patient and staff, and less invasive than an endoscopy.

“The feedback from patients has been very positive as there is no requirement for sedation or recovery time afterwards and normal activities like driving can be resumed immediately which makes it much more convenient.”

Forth Valley patient Elizabeth Mcewan said: “Cytosponge is a very easy and very comfortable alternative to endoscopy. I was very relaxed thanks to the nurse who talked me through the whole thing. The device is put at the back of your throat to swallow with a big gulp of water. There was no gagging sensation as the string its attached to is tiny. A short time later the nurse asked if I was happy with her pulling it back up and if I would like some throat numbing spray. It was about 8 minutes from swallowing it and I could go walk straight out. I have had my Cytosponge results back and they are all clear, no cancer or abnormal cells, which I am really reassured about.”

George Clark from Grangemouth said: “I had the Cytosponge procedure recently and found the whole procedure much simpler than an endoscopy. With Cytosponge you’re in and out quickly which is very convenient. I’ve had my results and they are all clear, there is no cancer or abnormal cells to worry about, which is really reassuring. I will be seen again in three years as I’m in a Barrett’s Oesophagus screening programme.”