NHS England to pilot blood test that detects more than 50 cancers

England's National Health Service (NHS) is scheduled to a launch pilot test of a blood test, developed by US-based company Grail, that can detect 50 types of cancer at early stages. The scheme will be launched in autumn and is aimed at people over 50 years of age with high risk of cancer.

UPDATED: June 28, 2021 11:08 IST

A screen testing for the blood test that can detect 50 types of cancer at early stages is to be rolled out by England’s National Health Service (NHS). This pilot scheme will be launched in autumn and is aimed at people over 50 years of age with a high risk of cancer.

Grail, a US-based company, has developed this test using the method-machine learning algorithm, a kind of artificial intelligence that looks for chemical changes in fragments of genetic code cell-free DNA (cfDNA) that leak from tumours into the bloodstream. The study was conducted on 2,823 people with the disease and 1,254 people without it.

Eric Klein, Managing Director and Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, said in a podcast, “We have established screening paradigms for five cancer, cervical cancer, cervical swabbing and cytology, prostate cancer with PSA, colon cancer with Cologuard and colonoscopy, breast cancer with mammography and lung cancer screening for patients at high risk with CT scanning, although it’s underutilised, there are a whole lot of other cancers that there are no screen paradigms for that tend to present in late stages and are hard to cure.”

Nikki Menon, a 36-year-old breast cancer survivor based in South London told India Today, “This sounds like a blessing. Particularly to those people who have a family history and are worried for themselves and family members. As a cancer survivor, I fully acknowledge that early detection is the key to tackle this growing illness and if the accuracy of this test is verified, we are in good hands.”

Tests like these will be a very useful tool that can provide peace of mind. “If I have an offspring, I would definitely avail this test,” said Nikki Menon.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is a leading cause of deaths worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million lives in 2020. In England, around half of cancer cases are currently diagnosed at stage one or two but the NHS Long Term Plan is aiming to increase that to three quarters by 2028.

Chemotherapy has been tough for 50-year-old Tammy. While getting ready for surgery for her ovarian cancer, she feels it would have been a blessing if this test was available and the condition could be detected earlier.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, in a statement told India Today, “This technology has potential but what doctors need is to detect cancer at the very earliest stages because we know that this gives patients the best chance of survival. The results from this study do not yet tell us whether this test is able to pick up early-stage cancers in people who have not already been diagnosed.”

“A simple, reliable test for detecting cancer is sorely needed and would save many lives, and a crucial step towards turning this potential into reality will be a large-scale clinical trial which we know is in the works, giving the test to people who have not been diagnosed with cancer. This is the only way we’ll see if the test can help detect cancers before the currently available diagnostic methods do,” she added.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said, “While the good news is that cancer survival is now at a record high, over a thousand people every day are newly diagnosed with cancer. Early detection, particularly for hard-to-treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has the potential to save many lives. This promising blood test could therefore be a game-changer in cancer care, helping thousands of more people to get successful treatment.”

NHS pilot test will be rolled out to about 140,000 participants while the results are expected by 2023.

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