Image by National Cancer Institute

Rewriting your story


Real life stories


The Cytosponge

The Cytosponge - or 'Pill on a String' - can be easily swallowed. Once in the stomach the outside of the capsule dissolves leaving behind a sponge which then collects cells from the oesophagus as it is pulled out. The cells are then tested in a laboratory for signs of a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which can develop into cancer. Previously Barrett’s was diagnosed by patients having a biopsy during an endoscopy – which is an uncomfortable hospital procedure.

But the Cytosponge and molecular test, which were developed at the Medical Research Council’s Cancer Unit in Cambridge with additional funding from Cancer Research UK, is much less intrusive, less expensive and can be administered at GP surgeries.

​Trials are still ongoing but early trial results have shown the Cytosponge to have good accuracy rates. More than nine in 10 patients were able to successfully swallow the capsule and many said they preferred it to endoscopy. Diagnosing patients with Barrett’s means they can be monitored regularly for any changes in their condition.

“It’s near miraculous to me.
If my GP hadn’t been selected and got me on a good day when I thought the trial sounded interesting, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s a chain of events that makes me feel so very lucky. I’m so grateful to everyone involved. I believe this trial saved my life.”

Life stories - Liz Chipchase

Early detection in action

When retired Cambridge scientist Liz Chipchase signed up for a clinical trial she did so out of personal interest, unaware it would be a decision that would save her life.

​At 70-years-old, Liz felt in good health, but unknown to her a cancerous tumour was growing in her oesophagus. Liz had been contacted by her GP practice about a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of the Cytosponge. She was eligible as she had a history of heartburn.

​Liz’s results, and endoscopy showed she not only had Barrett’s oesophagus, she also had cancer – which was close to spreading. Liz had two procedures to remove the cancerous tissue and required follow up treatment to remove traces of Barrett’s. Because it was detected early she managed to avoid an operation and chemotherapy.


With a different ending