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New multi-cancer blood test shows promising results

A new multi-cancer blood test sponsored and facilitated by the University of Oxford has been lauded as a potential breakthrough in cancer research and diagnosis, according to results from an NHS trial. 

Testing for over 50 different types of cancer in more than 5,000 people in England and Wales from the ages of 18 and over visiting their GP with suspected symptoms, the trial yielded a success-rate for identifying the disease as an impressive two in every three cases. Of these, the NHS trial has shown a further 85% success rate in the ability of the new multi-cancer blood test to identify the original site of the cancer.

As part of the SIMPLIFY study, it forms part of the first ever large-scale multi-cancer early detection testing (also known as MCED) in individuals presenting to their GP to follow-up on suspected cases of cancer, and has relied on the joint work of public and private sector companies in the United Kingdom and abroad.

With the University of Oxford both sponsoring the study and responsible for data collection, interpretation and analysis, efforts have received considerable funding from bodies such as the American healthcare company, GRAIL. Further support has been given by NHS England, NHS Wales, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Helen McShane is the Director of the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Group, and has described the study as ‘A fantastic example of how academia and industry can work together for patient benefit’ through a shared commitment ‘to diagnosing cancers earlier, when they can be cured’.

The importance of an early cancer diagnosis to a patient’s well-being and prognosis is well-known, yet has often been challenged in part by limitations on the resources available to GPs and hospitals, as well as the heavy weight of associated costs.

According to Brian D. Nicholson, Associate Professor at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, it is here, as well as within the science itself, that the blood test trialled by SIMPLIFY offers real hope. 

Discussing the implications on standard GP consultations, Nicholson explained that “most patients diagnosed with cancer first see a primary care physician for the investigation of symptoms suggestive of cancer, like weight loss, anaemia, or abdominal pain, which can be complex as there are multiple potential causes. New tools that can both expedite cancer diagnosis and potentially avoid invasive and costly investigations are needed to more accurately triage patients who present with non-specific cancer symptoms’”

Alongside ‘the high overall specificity, positive predictive value, and accuracy of the cancer signal detected and cancer signal origin prediction that was reported across cancer types in the SYMPLIFY study indicate that a positive MCED test could be used to confirm that symptomatic patients should be evaluated for cancer before pursuing other diagnoses.’

These potential advances in optimising the process of cancer diagnosis is hoped to be a step in the right direction not only to limiting the need for the harsher and frequently invasive treatments for cancers caught in their later stages, but also to curbing the fatality rate of the disease through early diagnosis while optimising NHS resources and cutting waiting times.

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