A new blood test known as Galleri will be trialled by NHS England as a potential "gamechanger" for detecting cancer early.
The blood test may help identify over 50 different types of cancer years before official diagnosis, prompting early treatment that may mean the difference between dying and surviving.
From 2021, the blood test will be offered to 165,000 people in England - the vast majority of whom will have no signs of the disease.
It is hoped that the tests will prove useful in detecting cancers that are often harder to spot and have worse survival rates, such as pancreatic or ovarian cancer.
If the trial is successful, the tests will be routinely available over the next few years, with a further trial of a million people planned for 2024/2025.
'Potential to save many lives'
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said: “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 gamechanger in cancer care, helping thousands more people to get successful treatment.”
The trial will be offered to people aged between 50 and 79; 140,000 of which will be free of cancer symptoms.
Participants will be randomly selected through NHS records to join the trial, receiving a blood test every year for three years.
The remaining 25,000 participants will be people identified by their GP as having potential signs of cancer like a lump. To speed up the diagnosis they'll have conventional tests like a CT scan alongside the blood test.
The tests could see the NHS fulfil its pledge to increase the proportion of cancers caught at stage one from 50 per cent to 75 per cent. Cancer detected at stage one gives people between a five and 10 times better chance of surviving than those whose cancer is identified at stage four.
It's believed that, as well as identifying cancer early, the tests may be able to pinpoint where in the body the cancer is developing.
The test is one of several being developed to spot cancer early. Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology, at Warwick University, said: “A publication from the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas consortium examining the Galleri test in 6,689 participants has generated very encouraging results in more than 50 different cancers at different stages of development.”
Some experts, however, have questioned how effective the tests may be. Paul Pharoah, a professor of cancer epidemiology, at Cambridge University has said the NHS is embracing a test that hasn't yet been proven to work as intended.