Blood test for lung cancer could speed up diagnosis in Wales as trial launched

The diagnostic technique will be tested on more than 1200 patients with suspected lung cancer as part of the clinical trial Credit: Welsh Government

A new liquid biopsy blood test which could revolutionise the diagnosis of lung cancer is being rolled out across Wales as part of a two year clinical study.

Lung cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer in Wales and the leading cause of cancer deaths.

It is hoped using a blood sample rather than a traditional tissue biopsy means the disease can be caught at an earlier stage, meaning treatment can begin sooner and ultimately survival rates can be improved.

A new clinical study of the potentially revolutionary liquid biopsy technique will see how effective it is in people with suspected lung cancer.

It is hoped the new technique will reduce waiting times for a diagnosis - and may eventually be used to detect other types of cancer too Credit: PA

It is hoped the technique, which detects multiple cancer markers, can eventually be rolled out to people with other suspected forms of the disease.

The scientists behind the technique hope it will provide "a simple, accessible and reliable means of investigating suspected cancer and less invasive monitoring for cancer recurrence."

The clinical study will involve more than 1200 patients with suspected stage three or four cancer, with patients given both a liquid biopsy test and a standard diagnostic test, such as a tissue biopsy.

A liquid biopsy is already used in a small number of cases where a tissue biopsy cannot be done properly.

The Welsh Government is announcing plans on Thursday to improve diagnostic services in Wales Credit: PA

The clinical study is being organised by the All-Wales Medical Genomics Service (AWMGS), Illumina technology and Life Sciences Hub Wales, as well as receiving investment from multiple other groups including health boards.

Craig Maxwell, a patient representative who has incurable lung cancer himself, said: "This clinical study is a major step forward in helping cancer patients, like myself."

He added: "Wales is so lucky to have amazing nurses and doctors who support us through this pathway, we all have a responsibility to make sure they have the best and most up-to-date technology available to them to support the diagnostic pathway."

Talking about his own experience of being diagnosed with an incurable lung cancer at the age of just 40, Craig said: "From the point of discovering my tumour, it took a stressful and hard 72 days to identify my cancer but this new technology will help support and deliver results quicker, allowing cancer patients to get treatment sooner and help them plan, with their families for the new life that exists in front of them.

"Let’s make sure all of Wales has access to these new innovative tests, and our amazing nurses and doctors have access to this technology to help them help us.”

  • The study hopes to provide evidence of how effective the technique is

Sian Morgan, a scientist who has worked on the research, said: "This blood test will have a huge impact in future diagnostics. It's a project that we're going to run over the next two years to show real evidence that this blood test really will have an impact to our patients to get them onto those treatments."

The Welsh Government is announcing plans on Thursday to improve diagnostic services in Wales, aiming to reduce waiting times for a diagnosis, improve patient outcomes and bolster the workforce trying to diagnose people.

The Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan said: "Wales has been leading the way in how we integrate genomic testing into health services to revolutionise how we deliver healthcare. Liquid biopsies could deliver real benefits for patients in Wales and save lives by helping us detect and treat cancers earlier.

“This is a key example of how working in partnership across a variety of sectors can contribute to improved health outcomes. This is part of our wider work to recover and transform services through the Diagnostic Strategy for Wales.”

She acknowledged that there had been a “slow start” to attempts to bring waiting times down after the pandemic but she said a “concerted effort” is taking place to speed them up. 

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…