A clinical pilot for a technique detecting the early signs of cancer has been launched at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT).

Cytosponge, which is being trialled at a few trusts across the country, is a test to diagnose early pre-cancerous conditions of the stomach and oesophagus.

Patients swallow a capsule attached to a thread, which then dissolves and releases a small piece of sponge.

It is then removed by slowly pulling the thread and it captures cells from the gullet, which are sent for testing.

Dip Mukherjee, BHRUT's clinical lead for oesophagogastric cancer and upper gastrointestinal surgery, said: “I remember when this technique was envisioned more than 20 years ago and now it is reality, so I am extremely proud to be leading this pilot across north east London.

“Previously, the only way to detect cancer or pre-cancerous conditions of the stomach and gullet, such as reflux or Barrett's oesophagus, was to have an endoscopy, which many people do not like.

"Cytosponge is a game changer and, most importantly, it will save lives."

At the pilot launch on Monday, March 22, one of the first people to receive the test was 83-year-old Marion Jones.

Speaking after the procedure at Queen's Hospital, she said: "The whole process was marvellous and I am blown away by the technology.

"I've had an endoscopy before, which I found difficult, but this procedure was completely different; it was just like swallowing an everyday tablet.

"I was awake throughout and the whole process lasted less than 15 minutes."

Gastroenterology matron Lynn Neeves said a major benefit of the simpler screening process meant the test could be completed as an outpatient appointment and it would suit people with busy lifestyles.

Mr Mukherjee stressed that people need to come in to get tested as soon as they have symptoms, such as indigestion, heartburn or reflux and are concerned it could be something more serious.

"Let us help you catch this cancer young and cure it early.

"If diagnosed at stage one, more than 95 per cent are cured. However, if diagnosed at stage four, it is very unlikely you will live more than two years. Please protect yourself and your family by getting checked."