The NHS is to begin the world’s largest trial of a blood test which can detect 50 types of cancer prior to symptoms appearing.
The Galleri test, led by the Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit, will be tested on 140,000 volunteers from across England.
How the test works
The test can detect various types of cancers that are not routinely screened for, and it can discover where the disease has appeared from in the body with high levels of accuracy. It does this by focusing on the chemical changes within areas of the genetic code – cell-free DNA – that tumours spill into the bloodstream, with some tumours shedding DNA into the blood before symptoms can be felt.
Finding cancers early is crucial during their journey through treatment, so this test has the potential to save thousands of lives in the UK.
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Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, expressed her favourableness towards the test saying: “This quick and simple blood test could mark the beginning of a revolution in cancer detection and treatment here and around the world.”
“By finding cancer before signs and symptoms even appear, we have the best chance of treating it and we can give people the best possible chance of survival.”
The test has been found effective at finding cancers that can be difficult to identify that emerge from areas of body such as the head, bowel, lung and throat. However, the test does not detect all cancers and does not replace the NHS screening programmes, such as for the bowel and breast.
From Monday, as part of the world’s biggest trial, blood samples will be taken from various mobile testing clinics located in different community locations in the UK. Letters of initiation will be sent to those from different ethnicities and backgrounds who are aged between 50 and 77 to take part, with the NHS looking to recruit 140,000 volunteers.
People from Merseyside, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, East Midlands, West Midlands, North-East, East of England, Kent and Medway, and South East London will be invited.
Those involved in the trial, who must not have had a cancer diagnosis in the past three years, will be asked to give a blood sample from one of the mobile testing sites and then told to return 12 months later for another to provide another blood sample, then again after two years.
The earliest results from the Galleri trial are expected by 2023. If the trial is deemed successful, the NHS in England plans to expand on the roll-out to an additional one million people during 2024 and 2025.
In the trial, half of those participating will have their blood samples with the Galleri test while the other half’s will be stored for possible future testing. This will allow scientists to compare between the two groups, working out the stage at which cancer is detected. Those detected to have signs of cancer will then be contacted by the trial nurse and referred to a hospital for additional tests.
Director of the Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit, Prof Peter Sasieni, said: “We need to study the Galleri test carefully to find out whether it can significantly reduce the number of cancers diagnosed at a late stage.”
“The test could be a game-changer for early cancer detection and we are excited to be leading this important research,” he continued.
“Cancer screening can find cancers earlier when they are more likely to be treated successfully, but not all types of screening work.”
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid has also expressed his eagerness for these trials stating: “Early diagnosis can save lives and this revolutionary new test can detect cancers before symptoms even appear, giving people the best possible chance of beating the disease.”
“Ensuring fewer people need treatment for advanced cancer is vital for patient care and another example of the NHS innovating to be more efficient – which will be crucial in bringing down the backlog.”
According to previous research published in June in the journal Annals of Oncology found that the Galleri test had low false positive rates, meaning that only an extremely low number of people were wrongly diagnosed with cancer. This was analysed following a test operated on 2,823 people with cancer and 1,254 people without.
It correctly identified cancer in 51.5% of cases across all stages of the disease and wrongly detected cancer in only 0.5% of cases.
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