Mercy hospitals are now offering a new blood test that can detect markers for over 50 types of cancer — including several that are otherwise impossible to screen for — to catch the disease in early stages.
Nancy Dixon knew as soon as she heard of the test that she wanted to sign up.
Dixon, who works in media relations at Mercy and is based in Oklahoma City, lost her father to pancreatic cancer when she was 16. He was only 51.
“I am older than he was when he passed,” she said. “So this has always been in the back of my mind.”
Pancreatic cancer is hard to catch early. It’s not among the types of cancers people are routinely screened for, and it’s typically diagnosed at stage IV, which can leave patients with few options for treatment.
The new blood test, called Galleri, is a multi-cancer early detection test developed by the health care company GRAIL. While Galleri isn’t fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA gave it “breakthrough device” designation in 2019, which allows GRAIL’s blood test to be offered to the public while more data is collected.
The test is meant to complement — not replace — regular cancer screenings, like ones for breast, colon, cervical, lung and prostate cancers.
“This innovative test has shown the ability to screen for hard-to-detect, aggressive and often deadly types of cancer like pancreatic, ovarian and esophageal, which oftentimes have no warning signs and are caught too late,” Dr. Jay Carlson, the clinical chair of Mercy Research, said in a statement.
Dixon was one of the first people to schedule the blood test through Mercy. As someone who’s always tried to be proactive about her health, it was a “no brainer” for Dixon.
She’s expecting her results back this week and hopes they bring peace of mind.
“If my dad had been able to detect his cancer earlier, and there had been something that could have been done, he might be here today,” she said.
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Who is it for?
The test is currently being offered to people 50 or older, or some people younger than 50 with a family history of cancer or other risk factors.
The test costs $949, and it’s not covered by insurance, so patients will have to pay out of pocket for it. Mercy has said it’ll work with people who can’t afford the full cost of the test.
How does it work?
A patient comes in for a simple blood draw — just like one you might get to check your cholesterol levels, for example — and the sample is sent off for testing.
“The test is looking for markers or signals of specific cancer-related DNA,” said Dr. Jesse Campbell, the president of Mercy Clinic Oklahoma.
Within about two weeks of the blood draw, Mercy’s early detection team and the patient will get the results of the screening back from GRAIL, with a separate marker for each of the types of cancers included in the screening.
A positive result means a patient should go in for additional diagnostic testing to determine whether cancer is truly present, Campbell said.
For example, if a signal comes back positive for breast cancer, a patient would be contacted to schedule a mammogram to confirm that the cancer is indeed there. False positives and false negatives are rare, but sometimes do happen, Campbell said.
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On the other hand, a negative result doesn’t give a person a pass to skip their normal screenings, but could offer some peace of mind. People should continue their regular cancer screenings, and the current recommendation is to repeat the blood test in three years, Campbell said.
For more information and to see if you’re eligible, go to mercy.net/EarlyCancerDetection.