Thousands of people to be invited to help NHS trial new cancer test

13 September 2021

Kent and Medway has been selected as one of eight areas of the country to take part in the world’s largest trial of a revolutionary new blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.

People in Dartford will be among the first to have blood samples taken at mobile testing clinics in retail parks and other convenient community locations in the area.

The potentially lifesaving 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 nationally, including thousands in Kent and Medway, to see how well the test works in the NHS.

Diagnosing cancer as early as possible 

Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Lead at Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, which is involved in co-ordinating the trial locally, said: “Diagnosing cancer as early as possible means patients can start treatment before their cancer progresses and improve chances of survival. We are very pleased to be part of this trial, which brings us an opportunity to diagnose cancer in people who haven’t yet recognised any symptoms. If you are invited to take part,  please help us help you and follow the instructions to visit your local site.”

Vaughan Lewis, Medical Director for the south east, which includes Kent and Medway, said:We are really excited to be taking part in this new trial, which could revolutionise the early recognition of cancer.  Early diagnosis and treatment of patients is less traumatic and offers significant long-term benefits, including a better chance of survival.”

'A simple blood test'

The test is a simple blood test that research has shown is particularly effective at finding cancers 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 in Kent and Medway will be sending out letters inviting local people, aged between 50 and 77, from different backgrounds and ethnicities to take part.

Participants, who must not have had a cancer diagnosis in the past three years, will be asked to give a blood sample at a locally based mobile clinic. They will then be invited back after 12 months and again at two years, to give further blood samples.

The first location in Kent and Medway to host a mobile clinic will be in Dartford, starting around the end of October, before moving on to other locations in the area. Exact details of locations, dates and timings will be shortly announced.

Working with leading partners

The NHS-Galleri trial is being run by Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit, in partnership with the NHS and healthcare company GRAIL, which has developed the Galleri test.

Professor Peter Sasieni, Director of Cancer Research UK and King’s College London Cancer Prevention Trials Unit and one of the trial’s lead investigators, said: “We need to study the Galleri test carefully to find out whether it can significantly reduce the number of cancers diagnosed at a late stage. The test could be a game-changer for early cancer detection and we are excited to be leading this important research. Cancer screening can find cancers earlier when they are more likely to be treated successfully, but not all types of screening work.

"Joining the trial is easy.We are particularly keen to attract volunteers from diverse communities in Kent and Medway to make sure the results are relevant for as many different people as possible.”

The NHS-Galleri trial is a randomised control trial (RCT) – meaning 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.

Sir Harpal Kumar, President of GRAIL Europe, said: “We’re delighted to partner with the NHS to support the NHS Long Term Plan for earlier cancer diagnosis and we are eager to bring our technology to people in the UK as quickly as we can. The Galleri test can not only detect a wide range of cancer types' but can also predict where the cancer is in the body with a high degree of accuracy. The test is particularly strong at detecting deadly cancers and has a very low rate of false positives.”

Delivering on the Long Term Plan

Initial results of the study are expected by 2023 and, if successful, NHS England plans to extend the rollout to a further one million people in 2024 and 2025.

The trial is the latest initiative launched by the NHS to meet its Long Term Plan commitment of finding three-quarters of cancers at an early stage by 2028.

Patients whose condition is diagnosed at stage one typically have between five and 10 times the chance of surviving compared with those found at stage four.

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