Doctors have told health services to prepare for a new era of cancer screening after a study found a simple blood test could detect several types of cancer in patients before they develop clear symptoms.
The Pathfinder study offered the blood test to more than 6,600 adults age 50 and older and detected dozens of new cases of the disease. Many cancers were at an early stage and almost three-quarters were forms that were not routinely examined.
It is the first time that the results of Galleri’s test, which looks for cancer DNA in the blood, have been returned to patients and their doctors, to guide cancer research and any necessary treatment.
Galleri’s test has been described as a potential “game changer” by NHS England, which is due to report the results of a major trial involving 165,000 people next year. Doctors hope the test will save lives by detecting cancer early enough for surgery and treatment to be more effective, but the technology is still in development.
“I think what’s exciting about this new paradigm and concept is that many of these were cancers for which we have no standard screening,” said Dr. Deb Schrag, the study’s senior investigator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York. he said Sunday at the European Society of Medical Oncology meeting in Paris.
In the Pathfinder study, 6,621 adults aged 50 and over were offered the Galleri blood test. For 6,529 volunteers, the test was negative, but flagged possible cancer in 92.
Further tests confirmed solid tumors or blood cancer in 35 people, or 1.4% of the study group. The test detected two cancers in a woman who had breast and endometrial tumors.
Beyond detecting the presence of disease, the test predicts where the cancer is, allowing doctors to speed up the follow-up work needed to locate and confirm a cancer. “The signal of origin was very helpful in directing the type of work,” Schrag said. “When the blood test was positive, it usually took less than three months to complete the work.”
The test identified 19 solid tumors in tissues such as breast, liver, lung and colon, but also detected ovarian and pancreatic cancers, which are usually detected at a late stage and have poor survival rates.
The rest of the cases were blood cancers. Of the 36 cancers detected in total, 14 were at an early stage and 26 were forms of the disease that are not routinely screened for.
Further analysis found that the blood test was negative for 99.1% of those who were cancer-free, meaning that only a small proportion of healthy people were mistakenly given a positive result. About 38% of those who tested positive turned out to have cancer.
Schrag said the test was not yet ready for population-wide screening and that people should continue with standard cancer screening while the technology improves. “But this still suggests a glimpse of what the future may hold with a very different approach to cancer detection,” he said.
Fabrice André, director of research at the Gustave Roussy oncology center in Villejuif, France, said: “Over the next five years, we will need more doctors, surgeons and nurses, along with more diagnostic and treatment infrastructure, to deal with the growing numbers. of people who will be identified through early detection tests for multiple cancers”.
Naser Turabi, director of evidence and implementation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Blood tests for various types of cancer used to belong in the realm of science fiction, but are now an area of cancer research that is promising for patients.
“Research like this is crucial to making progress against advanced-stage cancers and giving more patients the chance for a good outcome. The results of the Pathfinder trial give us a better understanding of how often this blood test detects cancer in people who have not been previously diagnosed.
“But we will need data from larger studies to fully evaluate this test and other similar tests in development, especially to understand whether people actually survive longer after their cancer is detected.”
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