Background: The principal reason for the poor prognosis of esophageal carcinoma is that most tumors are asymptomatic and go undetected until they are unresectable. Previous studies have shown that cytologic screening of asymptomatic high risk individuals can detect curable esophageal carcinomas and precursor lesions, but the sensitivity of such screening is not well documented. The current study evaluated the sensitivity and specificity of currently available balloon and sponge cytologic samplers for detecting biopsy-proven squamous dysplasia and carcinoma in asymptomatic individuals from a high risk population in Linxian, China.
Methods: Asymptomatic adults were examined with both balloon and sponge samplers, in random order, followed by endoscopy with mucosal iodine staining and biopsy of all unstained lesions. The cytology slides were interpreted using the criteria of the Bethesda System. The balloon and sponge cytologic diagnoses (test) were compared with the biopsy diagnosis (truth) in each patient to estimate the sensitivity and specificity of each sampler.
Results: Of the 439 patients with adequate biopsies, 123 (28%) had histologic squamous dysplasia and 16 (4%) had an invasive squamous carcinoma. The sensitivities/specificities of the balloon and sponge were 44%/99% and 18%/100%, respectively, for detecting biopsy-proven squamous cell carcinoma, and 47%/81% and 24%/92%, respectively, for identifying squamous dysplasia or carcinoma.
Conclusions: In this study, the balloon sampler was more sensitive than the sponge sampler for detecting esophageal squamous disease, but both techniques were less than optimal. Improved samplers and/or cytologic criteria should increase the sensitivities observed in this baseline study.