Buddy Check 3: New blood test for early detection of 51 cancers

Mercy Hospital offers GRAIL’S Galleri blood screening
Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 5:20 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2023 at 5:26 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A cutting-edge blood test can now detect 51 specific kinds of cancer before you have any symptoms.

Mercy Health offers the blood test, but the hospital’s involvement goes back to the test’s earliest clinical trials and a very personal involvement for one local doctor.

Dr. Jay Carlson has had a clinical practice at Springfield’s Mercy Hospital for years, caring for patients with gynecologic cancers. Now Dr. Carlson is the Clinical Chairman for Mercy Research.

In 1982, his father was diagnosed with three cancers within 24 hours: lymphoma, kidney, and bladder. Dr. Carlson has four brothers. They were all there when his father was diagnosed. Immediately, the discussion became whether it was time to take their dad fishing or stay engaged and pursue treatment.

It was a pivotal moment for Dr. Carlson especially. He was just on his way to medical school then, and that’s when he decided to specialize in cancer treatment.

In the years that followed, Dr. Carlson’s dad was diagnosed with cancer two more times: prostate and, ultimately, lung cancer. But he said his dad hung in there and lived another 20 years with medical care.

Giving other patients that extra time is the goal of this new blood test, called Galleri.

“The whole push behind this test was to find something that potentially allows us to adapt, identify those asymptomatic patients in an earlier stage, where their treatment might be less aggressive, and obviously their survival would be better,” according to Dr. Carlson.

Grail’s blood test can detect 51 cancers, from breast cancer to pancreatic, ovarian, liver, and bone cancers. And only five of those 51 cancers have current screening recommendations. So according to Dr. Carlson‚, by the time the cancers are discovered, they’re usually in advanced stages.

This new blood test detects cell-free DNA from tissue destroyed by a cancer cell that’s died somewhere in the body. There are 51 different signals the screening can match to specific cancers.

”What’s amazing is that the tissue site of origin that the test came back to was accurate in all of these...you know...if it said it was going to be pancreatic cancer, it was pancreatic cancer,” according to Dr. Carlson.

Most people who qualify for the blood test have a strong family history of cancer, like Dr. Carlson, who became part of the clinical trials himself.

“So when my test came back negative, then obviously, I shared that with my three brothers, two of whom have also had the test done,” said Dr. Carlson. “And everybody has been clear. It’s just a tremendous relief to know that at least at this point in time, state of the art says you are clear, and that’s what I was looking for.”

Genetic counselors at Mercy are also excited about the new test to detect cancers earlier than ever. Robin Troxell says, “it is a screening tool. But it is probably the most important one to come out in recent years.”

There are age recommendations and other guidelines for who should have the blood test. It’s by prescription only, and that process begins by answering questions at Mercy.net. More than 500 people have had the test in the Ozarks so far, all of whom share a common goal to identify that cancer early enough to give the patient more time.

The blood test is not covered by insurance and costs $949. A primary care physician can refer you to Mercy’s team, which determines eligibility for the screening. You can also apply for the test at Mercy.net/EarlyCancerDetection. Again, this early screening tool should never replace the current recommendations for the five cancers that have screenings, like self-breast exams and mammograms. Be sure to remind your buddy to do those...and if you haven’t signed up with a buddy...just click here https://www.ky3.com/page/buddy-check-3/ to do that.

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