The Cytosponge test explained

The Cytosponge test is a short procedure that can take place in a regular GP surgery with the help of a nurse or a GP. The aim of the test is to help detect the condition of Barrett’s Oesophagus. Patients diagnosed with this condition are advised to have regular check-ups due to a slightly increased risk of cancer of the oesophagus (also known as the food pipe or gullet).

Patients who have had gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as acid reflux) symptoms for a long time have a higher chance of developing Barrett’s Oesophagus. Therefore, they are invited to take the Cytosponge test. 

The Cytosponge is a sponge shaped like a sphere that is compressed within a gelatine capsule. The capsule is around 2 centimetres long – the size of a 20 pence coin – and is attached to a string. The capsule is swallowed while the nurse holds onto the string. 

After 5 to 7 minutes, the capsule dissolves in the stomach, allowing the sponge to expand. Once that time is up, the nurse pulls the sponge from the stomach through the oesophagus to the mouth. This only takes one or two seconds. 

The sponge will now contain cells from the inner lining of the oesophagus. The sponge will then be sent to a lab. In the lab, the sponge is tested to detect signs of Barrett’s Oesophagus. After a few weeks, the results are sent back to the GP who will discuss them with the patient.

You can also download a leaflet with information about the Cytosponge that can be printed by clicking here

Video demonstration of the test

Patient experiences

What do the results mean?

Most patients will have a normal result.

In about 97 out of every 100 patients screened there will be no sign of Barrett’s Oesophagus – this is a normal result.

Some patients will be invited for an endoscopy.

If your Cytosponge test shows signs of Barrett’s, you will be invited for an endoscopy to confirm the results. Endoscopy is a procedure where the inside your food pipe (oesophagus) is examined using a long, thin, flexible tube that has a light source and a video camera at one end. During the endoscopy, you may also have one or several biopsies, which is when a small sample is taken from your oesophagus with a needle to be checked under a microscope.

Patients with Barrett’s will be invited for regular endoscopies.

If you are found to have Barrett’s Oesophagus you will be invited for regular monitoring by endoscopy to prevent cancer from occurring or to find cancer early so it can be treated.

Cytosponge test results

  • Negative
  • Positive
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