Patients at St. Elizabeth Healthcare now have the ability to screen for 50 different types of cancer, thanks to a new cancer-detecting blood test launched in June 2022.
This new cancer-detecting blood test, known as Galleri, detects DNA from cancer cells in the bloodstream. Because this DNA is different than DNA from the rest of the body’s normal cells, it can help identify a potential tumor that may require medical attention.
The new test is ground-breaking for patients because it can pinpoint cancers that are currently difficult to detect.
“This test is very good at picking up cancers where we don’t currently have good screening options, such as ovarian or pancreatic cancer,” says Jaime Grund, M.S., director of St. Elizabeth Precision Medicine and Breast Centers. “Those cancers are difficult to detect at early stages. This new test allows us to screen for those diseases in a way that we haven’t been able to before.”
The impact of this early detection test could be significant because 70% of cancer deaths are from cancers that don’t have an effective screening. Currently, screenings exist only for breast, cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancer and must be conducted one at a time. This cancer-detecting blood test checks for 50 different cancers at once.
According to officials, it’s important to note the Galleri test is intended to supplement existing cancer screenings, such as mammograms, low-dose CT scans, or colonoscopies—not replace them. Consequently, patients should still see their provider for routine check-ups.
The cancer-detecting blood test is currently available at St. Elizabeth for patients over age 50 who are thought to be cancer free but who may be at risk. It isn’t recommended for pregnant individuals. Any patient previously treated for cancer must be in remission for at least three years before getting tested.
How the Cancer-Detecting Blood Test Works
The cancer-detecting blood test is simple. It only requires a blood draw, and results are available within two weeks. Positive results may identify concern for cancer in a specific part of the body, up to two affected body parts. For example, results may indicate a positive screening for either lung or pancreatic cancer.
When a patient receives positive results, they are contacted by a licensed genetic counselor to review the results and are immediately enrolled in the St. Elizabeth Cancer Prevention Clinic. Clinic staff help schedule an appointment with an oncologist for additional tests and any needed imaging studies.
The Cancer Prevention Clinic is part of the St. Elizabeth Precision Medicine and Genetics Program dedicated to genetic testing, early detection and prevention. The Clinic provides services for patients who want to proactively prevent cancer after learning they have a hereditary risk or increased risk due to a very strong family history of cancer. The Galleri® test will be a helpful addition to the health system’s existing preventive measures.
“We see patients in our Prevention Clinic because we’re trying to identify cancers at their earliest stages when they are most easily treatable. We’re also interested in measures that can be taken to prevent cancer,” Grund says. “This blood test fits nicely into our early detection and prevention efforts.”
To date, St. Elizabeth has completed the cancer-detecting blood test on a handful of patients, and no one has received a positive result. In fact, based on cancer incidence rates, only one to two percent of people can anticipate positive results. Overall, patient response has been relief from anxiety and worry.
“This test is very good at picking up the things it’s looking for, but it’s very unlikely that a patient will have cancer,” Grund says. “It’s far more likely that if you take this test, we’re going to give you reassurance instead of concern. Still, with this test, we have a net in place to identify those who do have cancer. It’s an opportunity to help them through diagnosis and treatment.”