UK’s first heartburn health check unit visits Suffolk

Posted on in Ipswich and East Suffolk News

A ‘game-changing’ test that can help save lives by spotting the early warning signs of oesophageal cancer has arrived in Suffolk.

Over the coming months, selected patients from GP practices in Ipswich and the east of the county will be invited to undergo the simple 10-minute ‘Heartburn Sponge Test’.

They will be invited to have the test in an innovative mobile diagnostic unit which has just relocated to Hartismere Hospital in Eye, where it will remain until late autumn.

The unit is funded and equipped by Heartburn Cancer UK (HCUK), the charity that promotes oesophageal cancer awareness (cancer of the food pipe), and the Innovate UK-funded Project DELTA, which is rolling out the sponge test technology.

Selected patients on medication for heartburn will be invited to attend the unit by their GP practices to take the quick but potentially lifesaving test.

Practices involved in the initiative in this area include Eye, Fressingfield, Debenham and Mendlesham.

The test uses a ground-breaking new detection technique for early signs of oesophageal cancer developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

But people aged 40 and over who experience persistent heartburn and regularly use over-the-counter indigestion remedies can also self-refer to the unit.

In order to self-refer you can’t have already been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, be awaiting a hospital referral as a result of seeing your GP or had an endoscopy within the last five years.

If you meet the necessary criteria, you can self-refer by calling 01223-761085. If you need to clarify your eligibility you can email

The new test has the potential to both cut waiting lists and save lives. Incidence rates of oesophageal adenocarcinoma (oesophageal AC), the most common cancer of the oesophagus in the UK, have increased six-fold since the 1990s, but survival rates remain poor at just 17% after five years.

Research shows, however, that 59% of cases of cancer of the oesophagus in the UK are preventable.

Dr Pete Holloway, a GP at Mendlesham Health Centre and Cancer Lead for the NHS Suffolk & North East Essex Integrated Care Board, said: “As with all cancers, early diagnosis is essential.

“The Cytosponge and lab test really is a game-changer when it comes to picking up early cell changes which could indicate cancer or the pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s oesophagus.

“Currently we refer patients we have concerns about to hospital for an endoscopy, but this test is a quicker, simpler, less invasive and cheaper way to monitor people who could be at risk of oesophageal cancer.

“Over the next few months, a group of GP practices in Ipswich and east Suffolk will be contacting at-risk patients and encouraging them to attend the mobile diagnostic unit at Hartismere Hospital.

“But we also want people who regularly use over-the-counter medication to treat persistent heartburn to get in touch so the unit can check them out.

“It will bring peace of mind to some of them, but for others it could catch a potentially deadly condition much earlier than other screening processes.”

Mimi McCord, Chair of Heartburn Cancer UK (HCUK), set up the charity when her husband died from cancer of the oesophagus after inadvertently ignoring early warning signs of persistent heartburn.

She said: “Early diagnosis is vital. By funding the mobile diagnostic unit and bringing the Heartburn Sponge Test to people’s local neighbourhoods we can help more of them be seen sooner, and do it in a much less intimidating and more convenient way.

“If we pick up more cases of Barrett’s oesophagus, or early signs of cancer, we are much closer to preventing people from dying unnecessarily.”

The mobile diagnostic unit, which has only previously visited Cambridgeshire and Essex, will be at Hartismere Hospital until autumn.

It is hoped that in the future the test could be used by GP surgeries throughout the country to identify potential issues for people on long-term heartburn medication.