Barrett's Oesophagus is a condition in which the normal lining of the food pipe is damaged by acid reflux (heartburn) and in some individuals these changes can go onto become cancerous.
Although most people with Barrett’s Oesophagus will not go on to develop cancer, for those that do survival rates are very low. Oesophageal cancer is difficult to treat with a 5 year survival of just 15%. Currently there is no easy way to know which people with Barrett’s Oesophagus are likely to develop cancer and which are not. That’s why current practice recommends all patients with Barrett’s Oesophagus undergo regular endoscopies to look for early signs of cancer in the hope that early detection will save lives.
However, endoscopies are an invasive test which many people find uncomfortable.It involves a fibre optic camera being passed through the mouth and down into the food pipe. Even with sedation, many patients find it intrusive and experience a gagging sensation as the camera passes into the food pipe.
That’s why scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam and Arizona State University have been working together to find a way to identify which patients have a high risk and which patients have a low-risk of getting oesophageal cancer. The test looks at the genetic make-up of the abnormal cells lining the food pipe and can predict which cells are likely to go on to become cancerous.
If these results are validated, then doctors will be able to safely differentiate between high and low risk patients. Offering more personalised screening only to those likely to benefit from endoscopies, meaning that the many people for whom endoscopies offer no advantage can be spared this unnecessary discomfort.
The lead researcher for the trial, which looked at over 300 Barrett's patients and analysed around 50,000 cells, believes the study will “dramatically improve the quality of life for people with Barrett's, and provide substantial cost saving to healthcare providers."
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