A blood test that could detect cancers early will undergo trials in the U.S.

Many companies developed blood tests for cancer, but none of them have FDA approval so far.
Mert Erdemir
Blood samples a in a clinical medical laboratory.
Blood samples a in a clinical medical laboratory.


The U.S. is preparing to launch trials of blood tests that can improve the detection of multiple kinds of cancer, according to a report by MIT Technology Review. The trial, which will be conducted by the National Cancer Institute, will test the efficacy of various blood tests in detecting cancer in 24,000 healthy participants over four years.

The majority of the multi-cancer early detection tests (MCEDs) function by searching for tumor cell remnants that explode after being attacked by the immune system. Debris from dead tumors can be found in the bloodstream, where it can be identified as a cancer warning before symptoms appear. And if imaging confirms the result, a biopsy follows the process.

The only test that is currently used in the U.S. is the Galleri, which claims to detect more than 50 cancer types. However, it has some downsides, such as not having FDA approval. Therefore, it's not covered by most insurance and costs $949.

Importance of determining how to interpret the blood test

According to new data shared by the test's developers, in a group of around 6,600 people who were believed to be healthy, the test discovered 35 cases of cancer, 26 of which were cancers not regularly checked for.

Only some blood tests can identify the organ where the cancer is in. To confirm a diagnosis, lab tests must be performed on tissue that can contain cancer; however, the whole body of a person cannot be biopsied.

False positives are also a problem for cancer screening, which is intended to involve sorting through a large number of healthy tests in order to detect cancer. Another danger is rushing. Even while some tumors never spread or become life-threatening, early discovery may prompt harsh treatment options like chemotherapy.

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Therefore, the NIC trial is especially important for determining how to interpret the blood test results for cancer. Since companies flood the market with new tests, the NIC trial should provide a standard approach to launching cancer screening research.

"I don't think most companies tend to want to compare their tests head to head," says Timothy Rebbeck, a professor of cancer prevention at Harvard. "It's expensive and difficult. So somebody else, a neutral party like the NCI, needs to."

Rebbeck also thinks that the trial of blood tests will be critically helpful in cases of pancreatic, liver, and ovarian cancer, which are fatal and do not have any other screening options. "It seems very realistic to me to think that we could reduce death by half," he concludes.

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