NHS launches world’s largest trial of cancer blood test

Posted on: 13th September 2021

The NHS has launched the world’s largest trial of a new blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear, including liver cancer and bile duct cancer.

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.

Why is the trial important?

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.’

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “Although the Galleri trial is still in the early stages, we’re very excited about the potential it has to detect liver cancer early. Liver cancer is a devastating disease which often only shows symptoms in the later stages, at which point treatment options are limited.

“Only 13% of people with liver cancer survive for five years or more after diagnosis, so an earlier diagnosis would be a lifeline to the thousands of people diagnosed each year.”

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.

“So if you are invited, please take part - you could be helping us to revolutionise cancer care and protect yourself.”

How it works

The test is a simple blood test that research has shown 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 (cfDNA) – that leak from tumours into the bloodstream.

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.

People will only know they’re in the test group if they are among the small minority whose test detects potential signals of cancer in their blood. These people will be contacted by the trial nurse by phone and referred to an NHS hospital for further tests.

All participants will be advised to continue with their standard NHS screening appointments and to still contact their GP if they notice any new or unusual symptoms.

Who can take part?

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.

When will we know the results?

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.

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