Blood test that can detect more than 50 cancers to be trialled by NHS

A blood test which can detect more than 50 types of cancer has been developed and is being trialled by the NHS. 

Scientists from the US trialled the blood test on 2,823 people already diagnosed with cancer, with cases ranging from stage one to four and with myriad forms of the disease. 

It was able to spot stage four cancers, the most advanced, in 90.1 per cent of cases, but its sensitivity decreased in patients with less severe disease. 

The test only spotted 16.8 per cent of stage one cancers, 40.4 per cent of stage two, and 77 per cent of stage three. 

For all cancers, the method had an accuracy level of 40.7 per cent, but varied dramatically by cancer stage and type. 

Based on tests done on 1,254 people without cancer, the researchers developing the technology at Grail, a healthcare company based in California, know it only gives a false positive – saying someone has cancer when they don’t – 0.5 per cent of the time, or once in every 200 tests. 

The test works by detecting levels of cell-free DNA, which are produced by tumours and end up in the bloodstream. The test also looks at how a person’s DNA has been altered and Artificial Intelligence processes this to calculate if a person likely has cancer, and if so where in the body.

Researchers at Grail say results come back in 10 working days and it is now working with the NHS to test it on 164,000 people. 

Most common cancer in the UK

Dr Eric Klein, chairman of the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, led the study testing the Grail technique, and said: "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. 

"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."

He hopes the blood test can be used as an early detection technique to identify people who may have early stage cancer. 

He added: "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."

Professor Peter Johnson, the National NHS Clinical Director for Cancer, said: "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.

"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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