Doctors have told the health service to brace for a new era of cancer screening after a study found a simple blood test could detect several types of cancer in patients before they develop clear symptoms .
The Pathfinder study offered the blood test to more than 6,600 adults aged 50 and over and detected dozens of new cases of the disease. Many cancers were at an early stage and almost three quarters were forms that were not systematically detected.
This is the first time that results from the Galleri test, which looks for cancer DNA in the blood, have been returned to patients and their doctors, to guide cancer investigations and any necessary treatment.
The Galleri test has been described as a potential ‘game changer’ by NHS England, which is due to report the results of a major trial involving 165,000 people next year. Doctors hope the test will save lives by detecting cancer early enough for surgery and treatment to be more effective, but the technology is still in development.
“I think what’s exciting about this new paradigm and this new concept is that a lot of them were cancers that we don’t have standard screening for,” said lead researcher Dr Deb Schrag. on the study at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. said Sunday at the meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Paris.
In the Pathfinder study, 6,621 adults aged 50 and over were offered the Galleri blood test. For 6,529 volunteers, the test was negative, but it flagged potential cancer in 92.
Further tests confirmed solid tumors or blood cancer in 35 people, or 1.4% of the study group. The test picked up two cancers in a woman who had breast and endometrial tumours.
Beyond detecting the presence of disease, the test predicts where the cancer is, allowing doctors to speed up the follow-up work needed to locate and confirm cancer. “The original signal was very helpful in directing the type of work,” Schrag said. “When the blood test was positive, it usually took less than three months for the checkups to be completed.”
The test identified 19 solid tumors in tissues such as the breast, liver, lung and colon, but it also picked up ovarian and pancreatic cancers, which are usually detected at a late stage and have low survival rates.
The other cases were blood cancers. Of the 36 cancers detected in total, 14 were at an early stage and 26 were forms of the disease not systematically screened.
Further analysis revealed that the blood test was negative for 99.1% of those who did not have cancer, meaning that only a small proportion of healthy people falsely received a positive result. About 38% of those who tested positive turned out to have cancer.
Schrag said the test is not yet ready for population-wide screening and people should continue with standard cancer screening while the technology improves. “But it still suggests a glimpse of what the future may hold with a really very different approach to cancer screening,” she said.
Fabrice André, director of research at the Gustave Roussy cancer center in Villejuif, France, said: “In the next five years, we will need more doctors, surgeons and nurses, as well as more diagnostic and treatment infrastructure, to support the growing number of people who will be identified by multi-cancer early detection tests.
Naser Turabi, director of evidence and implementation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Blood tests for several types of cancer used to be the stuff of science fiction, but they are now a field of cancer research. promising cancer for patients.
“Research like this is crucial to making progress against late-stage cancers and giving more patients the chance to have good results. The results of the Pathfinder trial give us a better understanding of how often cancer is detected by this blood test in people who have not been previously diagnosed.
“But we will need data from larger studies to fully assess this test and other similar tests in development, particularly to understand whether people actually survive longer after their cancer has been detected.”
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