Blood test

Thousands of volunteers join trial as NHS cancer initiative takes shape

More than 140,000 people have joined the world’s largest trial of a blood test that can detect 50 types of cancer, as volunteers arrive in droves to help detect cancer as early as possible.

NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, announced the milestone last week with volunteers from up and down the country taking up the invitation to have a blood test at mobile clinics in more than 150 locations, including supermarkets, leisure centre car parks, and places of worship.

Participants are now also being invited to two further appointments spaced approximately 12 months apart – the landmark trial is only just a year underway and making significant headway, further delivering on the NHS Long Term Plan commitment of increasing the proportion of cancers caught early, when they are easiest to treat, from half to three in four.

The test works by identifying chemical changes in fragments of DNA that have shed from tumours into the bloodstream.

Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS will not stand still in our efforts to catch cancer earlier and save more lives, rolling out new and innovative ways to detect cancers sooner; from roaming liver trucks to genetic testing and high street checks, we want to make it as easy as possible for those most at risk to get vital, lifesaving tests.

“Today marks an important milestone in our long-term efforts to catch and treat cancer earlier – we know that certain cancers are harder to detect and a late diagnosis can be devastating for patients and their families, and this trial means thousands could benefit from a diagnosis even before symptoms appear.”

Trial organisers, and the NHS DigiTrials service, have made “particular efforts” to garner insights from and achieve representation of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, who are less likely to take part in clinical research trials like this one.

NHS teams went about this by working in partnership with specific GP practices to send invitations to their ethnic minority patient list, spreading the word at community group briefings, distributing leaflets in the relevant areas, working in tandem with community champions, and planning targeted social media posts.

Michael Chapman, Director of research and clinical trials at NHS Digital, said: “This is a brilliant illustration of how we can offer more people the opportunity to be part of research using the records held by the NHS. It’s not just the speed of recruitment that is important but also how representative the volunteers are of our diversity, ensuring the results of this trial are relevant to everyone who might benefit.”

Whilst it is too early to report the results of trial, a number of participants have been referred for urgent cancer investigations, with initial research showing that the test could help detect cancers that are usually difficult to identify early, such as pancreatic, bowel, lung, and head and neck cancers.

This is the just latest instalment in a long line of cancer innovation in the NHS, including high street pharmacists flagging signs of cancer early, drones delivering chemotherapy cross-country, and liver and lung scanning trucks roaming though local communities.

More information on the trial is available here.

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