A doctor examining a blood sample [file pic] (Image: Getty Images/Cultura RF)

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A single blood test that can spot more than 50 types of cancer is being piloted on the NHS.

The Galleri blood test will be given to 165,000 participants to identify molecular changes that indicate cancers that are difficult to diagnose early.

These include cancers of the head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, oesophageal and some blood cancers.

If it is shown to identify cancers early in people without symptoms it will be rolled out to become routinely available.

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens 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.

A radiologist examines an X-ray [file pic]
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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“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.”

Currently the UK is one of the worst performing of the major European countries when it comes to early cancer detection.

The test is developed by healthcare firm GRAIL will be offered from mid-2021.

A blood sample awaiting analysis [file pic]
(Image: Getty Images/Cultura RF)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This exciting and ground-breaking new blood test from GRAIL will give us another tool to give more people the very best chance of survival.”

The pilot 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.

Some experts warned that the test could do more harm than good.

Screening is known to detect tumours that would not have been dangerous and can in some cases lead to unnecessary surgery and even earlier deaths.

Prof Paul Pharoah, leading cancer epidemiologist at Cambridge University, said: “The Galleri blood test is a test that might be able to detect cancer in the blood in individuals with early cancer, though the evidence that it does this effectively is weak.

“The NHS should not be investing in such a test before it has been adequately evaluated in well-conducted, large-scale clinical trials.”