1 December 2020

New trials will investigate if protein test is a game-changer

Europa Uomo supports the adoption of organised national screening programmes for prostate cancer, writes John Dowling. When a new test is announced which would allow the early detection of prostate cancer we should take notice. The British media announced details last week about a new blood test that could diagnose more than 50 cancers and some experts called it a “potential gamechanger”.

The test is said to identify the cancers due to proteins from a tumour being released into the bloodstream.   The UK National Health Service (NHS) is due to begin trialling the test in 2021, involving 165,000 people aged 50 to 79 – the vast majority of whom will have no sign of disease. If the trial proves successful it could save many lives by enabling prompt treatment.

Despite many favourable expressions of interest in the test there are some sceptical voices. Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology at Cambridge University, claimed the NHS was prematurely embracing a test that had yet to be proven to work.

He said the blood test "might be able to detect cancer in the blood in individuals with early cancer, though the evidence that it does this effectively is weak.”  If the results of the trial show the test works, the NHS will recruit another million people for a much larger trial in 2024.

Cancer charities welcomed the trial. Annwen Jones, Target Ovarian Cancer’s chief executive, said: “At the moment two-thirds of women with ovarian  cancer are diagnosed late, when the cancer is much harder to treat. This test, if proven to be effective, could be a major turning point in diagnosing ovarian cancer in this country, saving thousands of lives every year.”

Many other cancers, including prostate cancer, might also be detected early with the test.  In the meantime we should continue to press on for screening for prostate cancer and follow the example of the Finnish Parliament which recently voted in favour of prostate screening.