Blood test that can detect 50 types of cancer to be trialled by NHS

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NHS England are set to pilot a blood test which can detect more than 50 types of cancer.

The test, which has been developed by U.S.-based company Grail, is able to spot even the types of cancer which are difficult to diagnose early, such as head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers.

Dr Eric Klein, chairman of the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, led the study testing the Grail technique, and hopes the test can be used as an early detection technique.

"Finding cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be successful, is one of the most significant opportunities we have to reduce the burden of cancer," he said in a statement. "These data suggest that, if used alongside existing screening tests, the multi-cancer detection test could have a profound impact on how cancer is detected and, ultimately, on public health.

"A screening test that requires only a simple blood draw could provide an option for communities that have poor access to medical facilities. I'm excited about the potential impact this approach will have on public health."

The test works by looking for chemical changes in a person's genetic code and detecting levels of cell-free DNA, which are produced by tumours and are found in the bloodstream.

The scientists tested the accuracy of the screening technique on 3,537 people - 2,823 people with cancer and 1,254 people without - and it correctly identified when cancer was present in 51.5 per cent of cases, across all stages, and gave a false positive in 0.5 per cent of cases. It also correctly indicated where the cancer was located in the body in 88.7 per cent of cases.

However, its sensitivity seemed to decrease in patients with less advanced cancer, with stage four being spotted in 90.1 per cent of cases but stage one in only 16.8 per cent.

The NHS pilot is due to start in the autumn and will involve 140,000 participants. Results are to be expected in 2023.

"This latest study provides further evidence that blood tests like this could help the NHS meet its ambitious target of finding three-quarters of cancers at an early stage, when they have the highest chance of cure," said Professor Peter Johnson, national NHS clinical director for cancer. "The data is encouraging and we are working with Grail on studies to see how this test will perform in clinics across the NHS, which will be starting very soon."

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