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Results of a new blood test study - run in Torbay and Cornwall - show it detects two thirds of cancers

A new blood test for more than 50 types of cancer has shown success in a major NHS study supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The blood test, offered to patients who visited their GP with suspected cancer symptoms, has correctly revealed two out of every three cancers in the study.

The test, which looks for abnormal DNA in the blood, identifies genetic codes from different cancers. In 85% of positive cases, the test was able to pinpoint the original site of cancer.

The SYMPLIFY study recruited over 6,200 participants aged 18 and over at 43 sites in England and Wales, including 384 from Torbay Hospital and 310 from Royal Cornwall Hospital. It was supported regionally by the NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula.

Dr Duncan Wheatley, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Principal Investigator for the study in Cornwall, said: “We are proud to have collaborated with the SYMPLIFY researchers and the cancer alliances on this study. This is a step towards a more rapid and accurate way of identifying patients with cancer at an earlier stage, as well as reassuring patients with suspicious symptoms that they don't have cancer. Survival rates are directly linked to stage of cancer at diagnosis, so any way of getting there earlier is a good thing. There are further analyses ongoing from this study at present and there will be many refinements of existing clinical models and incorporating these kinds of genomic tests to aid more rapid diagnosis.”

Dr Louise Medley, Principal Investigator for the study at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This trial demonstrated the dedication of teams involved in the diagnosis of cancer at Torbay.  The enthusiasm of everyone in offering this cutting-edge technology to patients was heart-warming.  We are very grateful to all the patients and staff involved in the SYMPLIFY trial.  They should be very proud of the part they have played in taking us forward in improving the earlier diagnosis of cancer.”

The aim of the SYMPLIFY study was to demonstrate how the Galleri test could be used to increase cancer detection rates and improve diagnostic pathways.

Recruitment of participants started in summer 2021.It is the first large-scale evaluation of a multi-cancer early detection (MCED) test in individuals who presented to their GP for diagnostic follow-up for suspected cancer.

Those who took part in the study had been referred by their GP for urgent imaging, endoscopy or other diagnostic modalities to investigate symptoms suspicious for possible gynaecological, lung, lower GI or upper GI cancer, or who had presented with non-specific symptoms. Participants provided a blood sample, from which DNA was isolated and tested. The most commonly reported symptoms leading to referral were unexpected weight loss (24.1%), change in bowel habit (22.0%), post-menopausal bleeding (16.0%), rectal bleeding (15.7%), abdominal pain (14.5%), pain (10.6%), difficulty swallowing (8.8%) and anaemia (7.1%).

Sponsored by the University of Oxford, the study was funded by US healthcare company GRAIL with support from National Health Service (NHS) England, NHS Wales, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).