Researchers in England are testing a new cancer blood test that promises to reveal the presence of hard-to-find cancers like mesothelioma earlier.
The country’s National Health Service will offer the test to 165,000 UK residents next year as part of a clinical trial.
“Early detection, particularly for hard to treat conditions like ovarian and pancreatic cancer, has the potential to save many lives,” NHS England’s’ chief executive Simon Stevens told The Guardian newspaper. “This promising blood test could therefore be a gamechanger in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment.”
If the trial of the new cancer blood test is successful, it could be available to help detect mesothelioma within a few years.
The Challenge of Identifying Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is the cancer most closely associated with asbestos. People who have lived or worked around asbestos are at highest risk.
Doctors use a series of tests to diagnose mesothelioma. Suspected patients may have blood tests, but they have to be combined with imaging scans, biopsies, and other exams. There is no cancer blood test that detects early mesothelioma.
By the time mesothelioma symptoms develop, the cancer may already be advanced. This is why the life expectancy for people diagnosed with mesothelioma is only about 18 months.
How the New Cancer Blood Test Works
A California company called Grail developed the new cancer blood test. The test looks for molecular changes that could indicate cancer. The test may also show where in the body cancer is developing.
Mesothelioma is of special concern in the UK. UK residents have one of the highest per capita rates of asbestos cancer in the world.
England’s National Health Service has a goal to increase early cancer detection from 50 to 75 percent. Researchers are hopeful that the new cancer blood test will help. Mesothelioma patients whose disease is caught at Stage 1 are much more likely to survive long-term.
“A publication from the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas consortium examining the Galleri test in 6,689 participants has generated very encouraging results in more than 50 different cancers at different stages of development,” Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology, at Warwick University, told The Guardian.
Trial Will Last Three Years
The trial of the new cancer blood test includes people between 50 and 79. Researchers will randomly select 140,000 of them from national health records. They will have the blood test every year for three years. Doctors will identify another 25,000 people who have signs of cancer to take the test.
Early results in 1,200 people showed 99 percent of positive results were accurate. The test showed the location of the cancer with better than 90 percent accuracy.
If the new cancer blood test produces similar results in the bigger trial, the next step will be a two year trial of a million people.
“NHS to pilot potentially revolutionary blood test that detects more than 50 cancers”, November 27, 2020, NHS website, https://www.england.nhs.uk/2020/11/nhs-to-pilot-potentially-revolutionary-blood-test/
Liu, MC, et al, “Sensitive and specific multi-cancer detection and localization using methylation signatures in cell-free DNA”, June 1, 2020, Annals of Oncology, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 745-759, https://www.annalsofoncology.org/article/S0923-7534(20)36058-0/abstract
Campbell, Denis, “NHS to trial blood test to detect more than 50 forms of cancer”, November 26, 2020, The Guardian online