Oesophageal cancer
Dr Katja Christodoulou

Team Guts UK are delighted to announce a brand new research fellowship beginning in 2022 to be led by Dr. Katja Christodoulou and her team at Imperial College London for three years, who have been awarded £210,000 for research into oesophageal cancer.

What is the oesophagus?

The oesophagus is often referred to as the food pipe, as it is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. It lies behind your windpipe (trachea) and in front of your spine.

Why does Guts UK fund oesophageal cancer research?

Oesophageal cancer is one of the deadliest digestive cancers, and Guts UK prioritises research into the most underfunded and neglected digestive conditions.

NHS data from 2021 shows that over 20% of oesophageal cancer cases were diagnosed at emergency (like A&E), while just 2.7% of breast and 7.8% of prostate cancer cases were. At this point, the cancer tends to be more advanced and harder to treat.

Only around 15% of those diagnosed with oesophageal cancer will live for 5 years or more. It is crucial that oesophageal cancer is diagnosed earlier, whilst most treatable, to give people a fighting chance.

What do we already know about oesophageal cancer?

Oesophageal cancer in the early stages often has vague symptoms, which can be similar to non-cancerous conditions. This means that under NHS guidelines, people are not always able to have a camera examination of the oesophagus (endoscopy). Unfortunately, many are therefore diagnosed with oesophageal cancer when it is at a late stage.

 What do Dr Katja Christodoulou and team hope to learn?

“We are further developing a breath test to pick up oesophageal cancer in the early stages, when it is more likely to be cured. This tests looks for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are small gas molecules. Our research so far, including previous Guts UK funded research by Dr Sara Jamel, has shown promising results.

The breath test is a simple, cost-effective procedure that is easy for patients. We hope to pick up those who are at high risk of developing early oesophageal cancer, so we can prioritise these people for an endoscopy.”

How will you complete your study?

“We will aim to recruit 228 participants, who will already be approaching our hospital sites for their endoscopy. We will ask them to perform a breath test, which simply involves breathing into a bag. The breath will then be collected into tubes.

Back at the lab, we will check if we can use these samples of breath to determine if they have cancer or not. We can compare this with their endoscopy test results.”

What is the potential future impact for your project?

“A breath test could allow us to pick up oesophageal cancer at an earlier stage, which would increase the chances of curing the cancer and potentially save lives. If we can successfully develop this test, we can avoid unnecessary endoscopies on patients, and prove more cost-effective for the NHS.”

This test could save lives by diagnosing oesophageal cancer earlier, when it’s easier to treat. Help us give people a fighting chance by donating to Guts UK today.

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