Published: 08:51, 13 September 2021
| Updated: 15:28, 13 September 2021
Kent residents could be invited to take part in an NHS trial of a new blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.
The trial, launched today, is being hailed as revolutionary and the largest of its kind in the world.
It is running with the support of eight NHS Cancer Alliances spanning different areas in England, including in Kent and Medway. Only people living in these areas will be invited to take part in the trial.
The Galleri test checks for the earliest signs of cancer in the blood and the NHS-Galleri trial, the first of its kind, aims to recruit 140,000 volunteers in eight areas of England to see how well the test works in the NHS.
The first people to take part will have blood samples taken at mobile testing clinics in retail parks and other convenient community locations.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “This quick and simple blood test could mark the beginning of a revolution in cancer detection and treatment here and around the world.
“By finding cancer before signs and symptoms even appear, we have the best chance of treating it and we can give people the best possible chance of survival.
“The NHS has a successful track record of leading the way on innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment, from CAR-T therapy to Covid-friendly drugs.
“The Galleri blood test, if successful, could play a major part in achieving our NHS Long Term Plan ambition to catch three quarters of cancers at an early stage, when they are easier to treat.
“So if you are invited, please take part - you could be helping us to revolutionise cancer care and protect yourself.”
Research has shown the test is particularly effective at finding cancers that are typically difficult to identify early – such as head and neck, bowel, lung, pancreatic, and throat cancers.
It works by finding chemical changes in fragments of genetic code – cell-free DNA, that leak from tumours into the bloodstream.
The NHS is already sending out letters inviting tens of thousands of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities aged between 50 and 77 to take part.
Participants, who must not have had a cancer diagnosis in the last three years, will be asked to give a blood sample at a locally based mobile clinic and they will then be invited back after 12 months, and again at two years, to give further samples.
The trial is being run by The Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit in partnership with the NHS and healthcare company, GRAIL, which has developed the Galleri test.
As well as Kent, people living in Cheshire and Merseyside, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, the North East, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England and South East London will be invited.
Initial results of the study are expected by 2023 and, if successful, the NHS in England plans to extend the rollout to a further one million people in 2024 and 2025.
Patients whose cancer is found early – known as stage one or two – typically have a broader range of treatment options available to them, which can be curative and are often less aggressive.
A patient whose cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage typically has between five and 10 times the chance of surviving compared with those found at ‘stage four.’
Prof Peter Sasieni, Director of The Cancer Research UK & King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit and one of the trial’s lead investigators, said: “We need to study the Galleri test carefully to find out whether it can significantly reduce the number of cancers diagnosed at a late stage.
"The test could be a game-changer for early cancer detection and we are excited to be leading this important research. Cancer screening can find cancers earlier when they are more likely to be treated successfully, but not all types of screening work.”
The NHS-Galleri study is a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) – meaning that half the participants will have their blood sample screened with the Galleri test right away and the other half will have their sample stored and may be tested in the future.
This will allow scientists to compare the stage at which cancer is detected between the two groups.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Early diagnosis can save lives and this revolutionary new test can detect cancers before symptoms even appear, giving people the best possible chance of beating the disease.
“Ensuring fewer people need treatment for advanced cancer is vital for patient care and another example of the NHS innovating to be more efficient – which will be crucial in bringing down the backlog.”