A blood test that may be able to spot more than 50 types of cancer will be piloted by the NHS, chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has announced.
The Galleri blood test, which can detect early stage cancers through a simple blood test, will be piloted with 165,000 patients in a deal struck by NHS England.
NHS England said research on patients with signs of cancer suggests the 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 test checks for molecular changes.
If the programme shows that the test 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 cancer mortality.
Patients who have their condition diagnosed at stage one 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 mid-2021, 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 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.’