Researchers have hailed as a possible ‘holy grail’ a new blood test that could be used to check for many different kinds of cancer all at once.
The Galleri Test, developed by US-based firm Grail, woks by identifying traces of DNA in the blood that can be linked to cancer. This may be used to spot up to 50 different varieties of the disease and by providing an early diagnosis may save 16,000 lives a year – nearly one in ten of the annual total of deaths.
Professor Peter Sasieni of King’s College London, who is one of the key NHS investigators working on the project, said: “The potential of this blood test to dramatically cut the number of people who die from cancer is enormous.”
He added that while in the short term there could be an increase in the number of cancer referrals as more cases are detected, the fact this will happen so early before symptoms emerge will make treating patients much easier.
“In the long run, there should also be many savings for the NHS, such as a reduction in the need for chemotherapy and expensive drugs for advanced cancers,” Prof Sasieni concluded.
People aged between 50 and 77 enrolled in the tests who displayed traces of DNA suspected to be cancerous were sent for further screening. It is not yet known how many of these were confirmed as cancer cases and the full results of the trails will not be available until 2024.
In the meantime, cancer survival can often depend on people getting tested when they first discover symptoms, which may hinge on the level of awareness they have of particular conditions.
For example, in the case of bowel cancer the number of people having checks between May and July was a record 170,000, up 30,000 on last year. This has been attributed to the publicity surrounding the death of the podcaster and bowel cancer awareness campaigner Dame Deborah James, who passed away in June.