The holy grail blood test that checks for FIFTY types of cancer


A groundbreaking blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer is to be trialled in the NHS.

In a world first, the Galleri test – dubbed the ‘holy grail’ for cancer – will be given to 165,000 patients next year.

If successful, it will be rolled out to more than a million people within the next five years and could be routinely available within the decade.

The Galleri test, which uses a blood sample to find the DNA from cancer cells may be able to pick up traces of the disease before the patient becomes symptomatic 

The NHS hopes next year to deploy the test on 165,000 patients over the next 12 months

The NHS hopes next year to deploy the test on 165,000 patients over the next 12 months 

The test, made by US company Grail, works by looking for DNA released by tumours into the blood – crucially even before a patient has symptoms.

Health officials believe it has the potential to save thousands of lives every year by flagging up cancer early, drastically improving survival chances.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, hailed it as a ‘game-changer’.

The test could be particularly effective, he said, for cancers that are notoriously difficult to diagnose such as ovarian, kidney, pancreatic, oesophageal, head, neck and some blood cancers. He said: ‘Early detection – particularly for hard-to-treat conditions – has the potential to save many lives.

‘This promising blood test could therefore be a game-changer in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment.

‘This trial again confirms that the NHS is at the forefront of cutting-edge treatments and technology.’

In the NHS pilot, 140,000 healthy people, aged between 50 and 79, will be given an annual blood test for three years. Anyone who tests positive will be referred for further investigation in the normal way through the NHS.

Another 25,000 people with possible cancer symptoms will be offered testing to speed up their diagnosis. Results of the studies are expected by 2023 and, if successful, it will be expanded to involve about one million people by 2025.

Tracking down the clues

The Galleri test is a ‘liquid biopsy’ developed by the US company Grail.

It uses machine-learning algorithms to pick up traces of DNA shed by cancer cells.

The test looks for chemical changes, called methylation, in cell-free DNA, which can contribute to tumour growth. When cancer is detected, the test is able to indicate which part of the body the cancer signals are coming from with high accuracy.

Most of these cancers cannot be detected through current screening practices, often resulting in a poor prognosis for patients.

But in theory the test quickly points to a diagnosis and treatment can be started earlier, drastically improving survival chances.

Research published earlier this year on 1,200 patients found the test successfully identified which part of the body their cancer was in with an accuracy of 96 per cent.

The test wrongly diagnosed people with cancer less than 1 per cent of the time. However, in 12 of the cancers it picked up most strongly, including ovarian and lung, it missed about a third of cases, many of which were at an early stage.

For pancreatic cancer, one of the biggest killers because it is rarely found early, the test spotted it 63 per cent of the time at the earliest stage. Fewer than one in five pancreatic cancer patients (18 per cent) are diagnosed in stage one and two of the disease. Three in five cases are found only after it spread.

The announcement is the latest in a string of cancer breakthroughs given the green light for use on the NHS, including CAR-T immunotherapy for previously untreatable cancers.

The blood test could help meet the NHS long-term plan goal of increasing the proportion of cancers caught early.

Patients whose condition is diagnosed at stage one typically have between five and ten times the chance of surviving compared with those at stage four.

More than 1,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every day in the UK, while it accounts for more than a quarter of deaths annually (28 per cent).

Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England and NHS Improvement said: ‘The NHS has set itself an ambitious target, to find three-quarters of cancers at an early stage.

‘Tests like this may help us get there far faster.’

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