‘Holy Grail’ tested by NHS could save thousands of lives by spotting cancer before symptoms appear

'Holy Grail' tested by NHS could save thousands of lives by spotting cancer before symptoms appear

A blood test for over-50s being trialled by the NHS could prevent up to one in ten cancer deaths in the UK.

The Health Service is conducting a global trial of the test, which aims to detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.

Although there are no results yet, the researchers are optimistic that it has “tremendous” potential. Based on modelling, they believe the ‘Holy Grail’ test could prevent around 10% of cancer deaths, of which there are around 167,000 in the UK each year – almost 460 a day.

The breakthrough could save around 16,000 lives a year.

Hundreds of participants in the 140,000-volunteer trial are already being referred for a scan or colonoscopy as a result of the test findings. It is expected that around half of those referred may have cancer.

If the trial is successful, the test will be rolled out to a million more people by 2024, possibly across the country.

If the test were available across the UK and offered to around 18 million adults aged 50-79, approximately 130,000 more asymptomatic people would receive cancer screening referrals each year, assuming one in every hundred positive test as expected by researchers.

British researchers believe the cancer test, from US company Grail, could be a “tipping point” in how the NHS tackles the disease.

There are currently almost three million urgent cancer referrals a year, according to figures for the year to February, so the test would increase referrals by around 5 per cent.

The researchers note that many of these references would have occurred anyway, but at a later date.

The NHS is struggling with a post-Covid backlog of cancer referrals, with leaked data this month showing more than 10,000 people are waiting for treatment three months after being referred for suspected cancer. But that situation is expected to have changed by the time the test can be implemented.

Professor Peter Sasieni, one of three lead researchers on the trial from King’s College London, said: “The potential of this blood test to dramatically reduce the number of people who die from cancer is enormous. Of course, if the NHS implements the test, we will see some increase in workload in the short term from the slightly higher number of cancer referrals.

“But in the long run, there should also be many savings for the NHS, such as a reduction in the need for expensive chemotherapy and drugs for advanced cancers.”

The blood test, called the Galleri test, picks up fragments of DNA linked to the cancer that are shed in the blood and can suggest where in the body it came from. It revolutionizes the way cancer is detected, as currently most patients are only diagnosed after developing symptoms.

Based on the modeling, they believe that the test of the

Based on modelling, they believe the ‘Holy Grail’ test could prevent around 10% of cancer deaths, of which there are around 167,000 in the UK each year – almost 460 a day.

Only after the results of the NHS trial are published will it become clear whether the test can prevent around 10% of all cancer deaths, as the model suggests.

But the test offers hope for hard-to-detect cancers, such as ovarian and pancreatic, that are often caught too late.

The NHS trial, run by Cancer Research UK, King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit and Grail, saw people aged 50-77 sent letters of invitation.

Those with a signal of cancer in their blood were referred for a scan at a target of two weeks, which is expected to apply if the blood test is offered routinely. Researchers are not yet revealing what proportion of people referred to hospital in the NHS trial turned out to have cancer, but previous studies suggest it could be 30 to 70 per cent.

In comparison, less than 10% of people referred to hospital after breast or bowel cancer screening will actually have cancer. Half of the people in the NHS trial did not have their blood sample tested. Your rate of advanced cancer will be compared to those who were tested. If it is significantly higher, this suggests that the test has prevented people from developing advanced cancer.

The 130,000 UK referrals using the cancer blood test are based on people aged 50-79 using it, if 70% of them accept the invitation.

The first results of the trial will be shared with the NHS in 2024.

Cancer Research UK’s Rose Gray said: “Research like this is crucial to making progress against late-stage cancers and giving more patients the chance of a good outcome.”

“This test could prevent suffering like mine”

It took Hollywood star Olivia Williams four years to learn that her symptoms were the result of a very rare pancreatic cancer.

The British actress saw ten doctors on three continents while working on several films, but a tumor the size of two matchboxes on her pancreas went undiagnosed.

Now the 54-year-old, who is set to play Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown, is defending Galleri’s test to detect early signs of pancreatic cancer before symptoms show.

Miss Williams, an ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK, has recovered from the disease, which is less fatal than the more common type. But he had half of his pancreas, spleen and gall bladder removed and now has to take pills to digest food.

The mum-of-two said: “I spent four years suspecting something was wrong but not being sure. This test is the end of that, it’s a godsend. It will prevent the second stroke that many of us suffer , that not only do you have cancer, but it has spread.

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