A new blood test that could help detect the early signs of more than 50 types of cancer is set to be piloted across England by the NHS.
The Galleri blood test will be piloted with 165,000 patients in a deal struck by NHS England, after research on people with signs of cancer suggested that the test could find many types that are difficult to diagnose early, such as neck, ovarian and head cancers.
The test, which has been developed by US company Grail, looks for molecular changes and will be rolled out more widely should it work as expected.
It is hoped the test could help the NHS meet its goal of increasing the number of cancers caught early, which is often the key to reducing cancer-related deaths.
If a patient is diagnosed while their cancer is at stage one, they typically have between a five and 10 times higher chance of surviving, compared with when it is found at stage four.
Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “While the good news is that cancer survival is now at a record high, over 1,000 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 more people to get successful treatment.”
The pilot is set to begin in the middle of next year and include 140,000 people aged between 50 and 79 who have no symptoms. They will receive annual blood tests for three years.
Patients will be identified through NHS records and anyone with a positive test will be referred to the health service for further investigation.
A further 25,000 people who have possible cancer symptoms will also be part of the trial and will be offered blood tests to help speed up their diagnoses after they have been referred to hospital.
Results from the pilot are expected by 2023, with a view to a wider rollout in 2024 and 2025.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are building a world-leading diagnostics industry in the UK – not just for coronavirus but for other diseases too.
“This exciting and ground-breaking new blood test from Grail will give us another tool to give more people the very best chance of survival, demonstrating how the UK continues to lead the way in using the latest innovative treatments to help patients.
“Many of us know a loved one who has battled against cancer and have seen first-hand the impact of this deadly disease.”