Cancer of the food-pipe is one of the fastest growing cancers in the UK; especially increasing since the 1990s. This type of cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men worldwide. Cancer of the food-pipe is often recognized late in progression and as a result cannot be treated as effectively (less than 15% of patients surviving longer than 5 years despite treatment). Barrett’s oesophagus (BO) is an abnormality that can sometimes occur before the appearance of cancer takes hold and can possibly provide doctors with an opportunity to treat patients earlier. As part of routine medical care, BO patients are regularly monitored by passing a camera (endoscopy) into the food-pipe and taking small pieces of tissue to examine under the microscope to check for early signs of cancer.
These assessments are not very reliable and are expensive. Furthermore, patients and doctors can find frequent endoscopies with lengthy sampling process difficult to tolerate as well as being very time-consuming. Only a few people with BO (less than 1% every year) develop cancer. We are trying to find a better way to identify at ‘high-risk’ BO patients to enable better monitoring and then early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.