Health & Fitness

New Test Developed to Detect Esophageal Cancer

ISLAMABAD: Scientists in Britain have developed a test to detect cancer of the esophagus, which could improve survival rates, they said Tuesday. Esophageal cancer develops in cells that line the esophagus, or food pipe, which connects the throat to the stomach. It is difficult to diagnose early and five-year survival rates are low.

But researchers at the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research at University College London have devised an cheap and easy test that detects high levels of a protein called Mcm5, an early indication of the disease. “The problem with esophageal cancer is that patients present symptoms and the disease is fairly advanced and the prognosis is usually poor,” said Dr Kai Stoeber, who reported the findings in the British Journal of Cancer. “This is the first test to pick it up, hopefully, earlier.”

Mcm5 is a minichromosome maintenance protein, which plays a major role in cell division. High levels of the protein mean cells are dividing uncontrollably — a hallmark of cancer. “What we are working toward is having a test that a nurse can do,” said Stoeber, adding that it would be available for people with a high risk of developing the illness or for a screening program.

When Stoeber and his colleagues assessed the test on 40 patients it had an average 85 percent accuracy in detecting the disease. If results of a larger study involving thousands of people show it is equally effective, the new test could be widely available in about five years. “Current tests rely on a pathologist or technician analyzing cell changes through a microscope. But as the new test is chemical in nature it could be readily automated, making it suitable for screening large numbers of people..,” said Dr Stephen Middleton, who conducted a clinical trial of the test.

Esophageal cancer is twice as common in men as in women. Smoking and drinking alcohol, especially together, increase the risk of developing the illness, which is most common in people in their 60s or older. “There is a high incidence in the Far East and central Asia. A link has emerged now to pickled, salty and preserved foods which are specifically eaten in these corners of the world,” Stoeber added. Difficulty swallowing, hoarseness or a chronic cough, vomiting, weight loss and pain or a burning sensation as food travels down the esophagus can be symptoms.-ONLINE

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Noreen Gill

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