Game-Changing Sponge Detects Deadly Cancer

GERD can be an early sign of cancer

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Anyone from babies to seniors can suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as GERD -- a chronic condition that causes acid reflux and heartburn. But did you know, GERD can be an early sign of cancer?

This year, 20,000 people will be told they have esophageal cancer. Now a new way to detect the beginnings of it can be done in just minutes at your doctor’s office.

David Brown is one of the first people in the United States to try out a new test to detect a very dangerous cancer. A cancer that claimed his dad’s life.

“Throughout my childhood he would be running to the restroom and vomiting," said Brown. "He became jaundiced due to liver metastasis, you know, from the esophageal cancer.”

Brown already struggles with severe heartburn. “It was just a really bad stomachache that went on for days,” he said.

“A lot of people live with reflux, live with Barrett's esophagus, live with a soft shield cancer, and they just don't know it,” Dr. Jason Samarasena an Interventional Gastronenterologist, said.

Until now the only way to detect esophageal cancer would be with an endoscopy, where patients are sedated, a flexible camera is fed through the mouth down to the stomach, taking four to five hours out of the patient’s day.

The new Cytosponge takes just seven minutes — without sedation. The capsule, the size of a multivitamin, is connected to a string. The patient swallows the capsule, the outer coating dissolves in their stomach, releasing an expandable sponge. The doctor then pulls the string.

“As we're pulling on the string, the sponges touching the esophageal tissue and collecting cells, and it collects about 500,000 cells throughout the esophagus,” Samarasena said.

The cells are then analyzed for any signs of cancer. “I really do think this is a game changer for this disease,” Samarasena said.

A life saver encompassed in tiny capsule.

Not all esophageal cancers can be prevented, but the risk of developing this disease can be greatly reduced by avoiding certain risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol.

Obesity has been linked with esophageal cancer and getting treated for reflux or Barrett’s esophagus is crucial to avoid getting cancer.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Supervising Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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