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Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive, said 165,000 patients will take part in the scheme earmarked to start next summer. Research on people with signs of the disease suggests the Galleri blood test can identify many types that are difficult to diagnose early, such as head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers.
Developed by US-based company Grail, the blood test checks for molecular changes.
If the initial programme shows that it also works as expected for people without symptoms, it will be rolled out to become routinely available.
The test could help meet the NHS goal of increasing the proportion of cancers caught early, which can be the key to reducing the disease’s mortality.
Patients who have their condition diagnosed at Stage One – when the cancer is small and hasn’t spread – typically have between five and 10 times the chance of surviving compared with those found at Stage Four.
Sir Simon said: “While the good news is that cancer survival is now at a record high, over a thousand 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, which is due to start in the middle of next year, will involve 165,000 people.
This will include 140,000 participants aged 50 to 79 who have no symptoms but will have annual blood tests for three years. People will be identified through NHS records and privately approached to take part.
Anyone with a positive test will be referred to the NHS for investigation.
Another 25,000 people with possible cancer symptoms will also be offered testing to speed up their diagnosis after being referred to hospital in the normal way.
Results of these studies are expected by 2023 and if outcomes are positive, then they would be expanded to involve around one million participants across 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 groundbreaking 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.”
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