New blood test poised to change how cancer is found

(BPT) – Rare is the person who hasn’t been impacted by cancer in some way. Maybe it’s your parent fighting for their life. Perhaps it’s a friend going through a difficult treatment. It could be a neighbor or colleague who was recently diagnosed and who now faces complex decisions.

It also might be you.

One in three people in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. Whether it impacts you directly or indirectly, cancer is a difficult journey. Despite the significant advances made in cancer care, the deadly disease is soon expected to become the No. 1 killer worldwide.

Cancer kills nearly 1,700 people daily

In January 1971, President Nixon declared war on cancer at his State of the Union address and signed the National Cancer Act into law later that year. Fifty years later, the nation observes World Cancer Day on Feb. 4. Of course this growing health problem deserves attention year-round.

In 2020 alone, Americans lost some of the most talented and iconic figures in the 20th century from cancer, from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis to gender equality champion Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Just a few additional celebrities who died included game show host Alex Trebek and actor Chadwick Boseman.

“Each day in the U.S., nearly 1,700 people will die from cancer and three times that number will learn they have it. Additionally, an estimated $201 billion was spent on cancer care last year,” says Josh Ofman, M.D., MSHS, and chief medical officer and head of external affairs at GRAIL, a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early, when it can be cured. “Currently in the U.S. there are recommended screening tests for only five types of cancers out of the more than 100 known to exist. Fortunately, new technologies are expected to expand screening options in 2021 and beyond.”

New advances in early cancer detection

Experts agree that the most crucial factor of cancer survival lies in early detection. The sooner you learn you have cancer the sooner it can be treated, ideally before it spreads and advances into later stages. Early detection can help cancer treatments to be more effective and can increase survival rates.

“Unfortunately, many cancers are currently diagnosed after the cancer has already spread,” says Andrew Hudnut, M.D., at Sutter Medical Foundation, Family Medicine. “Only 20% of people with late-stage diagnosis will survive five years. While cancer screenings exist for some cancers, for others the cancer diagnoses simply arrive too late.”

Thanks to emerging technology that is capable of identifying cancer signals in the blood, early detection is a possibility now more than ever. In clinical studies, Galleri, GRAIL’s investigational multi-cancer early detection blood test, demonstrated the ability to detect more than 50 types of cancers and identified where in the body the cancer was located with high accuracy, all with a low false-positive rate of less than 1%.

“This new cancer screening option has the potential to be an important addition to our current screening paradigms, such as for breast and colon,” says Charles McDonnell, M.D., FACR, a radiologist at Sutter Health. “With early detection being so critical, a simple screening such as Galleri could save or extend many lives.”

The Galleri test will be available in the second quarter of 2021, initially through large employers, health systems and specialty physician practices. Learn more at grail.com/galleri.

February 4 is World Cancer Day