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A blood test for multiple cancers: game changer or overhyped?

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o2279 (Published 21 September 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o2279
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. Kent

Liquid biopsies that can spot multiple cancers are being hailed as potentially revolutionary, but just how good are the tests? Jacqui Wise reports

Recent results from a trial of a simple blood test that could identify more than 50 different types of cancer before a patient has any obvious symptoms have been described in effusive and breathless terms.

The Guardian said the Galleri test could be “a new era” for cancer screening.1 Announcing the results from the Pathfinder study, senior study author Deb Schrag from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York said, “This study provides a glimpse of what the future may hold—the opportunity for screening using blood tests to detect various types of cancers at their earliest and most treatable stages,”23

In 2020, the test was described as a potential “game changer” by the then NHS chief executive Simon Stevens when he announced a collaboration between NHS England and Grail, the private company developing the test.4 NHS England is to report results from a major trial of the test involving 140 000 participants next year.5

Use of genetic sequencing

The multicancer early detection blood test uses genetic sequencing to detect small sequences of circulating tumour DNA in the blood which have some different methylation patterns from non-tumour DNA. The test, or liquid biopsy, can also …

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