Few prescriptions written so far for new cancer blood test
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A simple blood test that can tell whether you might have cancer in your body is available in New York State but doctors are still hesitant to prescribe it.
Andy Seniuk lost his father John last year, “they ran all the tests probably everything you could run and they found out that he had stage four cancer in his pancreas, liver and then some of it spread to one of his kidneys and I guess his lungs,” he explained to News10NBC. It was less than a month between diagnosis and death. Since then, as a way to channel their grief, the Seniuk family has been working to try and ensure other families don’t face such a sudden loss.
They were encouraged when President Joe Biden said, “imagine a simple blood test during an annual physical that could detect cancer early when there is a better chance at curing it,” during his Cancer Moonshot Initiative which aims to cut cancer deaths by 50% in the next 25 years.
The Seniuk family has been pushing for broader usage of the Galleri Multi-Cancer Detection Test which has been approved to be prescribed here in New York for about a year.
News10NBC spoke with the team who developed it back in November of 2021. Basically, you give them a vile of blood and they test it for 50 different cancers using genetic sequencing and artificial intelligence, “we can find and we can sequence, these tiny bits of tumor derived DNA in the blood and based on the patterns that we see, we can reveal if a signal for cancer is present and we can predict with very high accuracy where in the body this cancer signal is coming from,” explained Dr. Julia Feygin.
In a recent European study of more than 6,000 people over the age of 50, the company that makes the Galleri Test says it identified 36 cancers in 25 patients. “If there’s something available like this, you’d hate to see somebody else go through something like this if you could detect something early enough and save someone’s life,” Andy says.
News10NBC asked the head of Wilmot Cancer Institute here in Rochester to look at the new data and add some perspective, “I am incredibly excited about the technology and there are ways that we’re starting to use that technology to follow patients who have already been diagnosed with cancer to see if the cancer comes back,” Dr. Jonathan Friedberg says, but he and other experts in the field, want more data before this kind of testing becomes a widespread option.
“The problem is that the tests may be too sensitive and find early lesions that ultimately may never turn into cancer and that we don’t really know how to manage,” Dr. Friedberg explains, “the other thing is, if you find a lesion that is early and you say OK we got to cut it out… sometimes cutting it out which can be a major surgical procedure that has its own risks.”
And then of course, there’s just the general anxiety of a patient knowing they have cancer in their body, even if it may not materialize into danger for years. “I have seen patients who have seen diagnosis of very early lymphoma lesions, that’s the disease that I treat, that probably wouldn’t have bothered them for 10 years, but because it was there, they’ve changed their lives, they’ve quit their jobs, they’ve made important life decisions worried about mortality,” Dr. Friedberg says, “so, those are some of the harms that are hard to measure in a study, but need to be considered before this becomes widespread.”
The maker of the Galleri test says it is intended to complement existing cancer screenings, not replace them. Right now, it is only recommended for people who have an elevated risk, meaning those who are older than 50, or who’ve already had cancer. Those with a family history, or genetic predisposition to cancer, might also be candidates.
The Galleri test is not fully approved by the FDA, which means insurance companies will not cover the cost of it. So, those who want it, will not only need a prescription from their doctor, but also need to pay about $1,000 out of pocket.