Research Examines Whether a Blood Test Can Provide Early Detection of Cancer

Research Examines Whether a Blood Test Can Provide Early Detection of Cancer.

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MedStar Health Research Institute is now enrolling patients in the prospective, multi-center Pathfinder 2 trial of an early detection test for multiple types of cancer.

The sooner cancer is found, the sooner treatment can begin, and the more likely patients will experience a positive outcome.

Yet research shows that about half of all cancers are currently diagnosed at an advanced stage after symptoms develop and the disease has progressed. 

We’re studying a new blood test that could find a wide range of cancers earlier when they are more treatable.

At MedStar Health Medical Center at Leisure World, we’re enrolling patients in the Pathfinder 2 Study, a prospective, multi-center interventional study of the GRAIL multi-cancer early detection (MCED) test. 

With a blood sample, MCED tests may be able to find more than one type of cancer. The test examines the blood sample, looking for bits of DNA or proteins that come from cancer cells. If found, these cancer signals can mean a person has cancer, and it can sometimes detect in which organ the cancer began.

When cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, it gives patients the best chance at successful treatment. It lowers the cost of that treatment and reduces the chances of complications. 

The Pathfinder 2 study is exciting because MCED tests could be a significant advancement in how we find and treat cancers, and results from this test could help patients gain peace of mind about their health.


About the Pathfinder 2 Study.

In the Pathfinder 2 Study, patients aged 50-79 will be enrolled to help evaluate the safety and performance of the MCED test developed by GRAIL. About 38,000 patients across North America will participate.

We will draw a sample of the participants’ blood and send it away for testing. Within 5-7 days, we receive a result. A negative result means the test did not find signals of cancer. 

If there is a positive result, I will talk with my patients about which other providers they should see for further testing to diagnose a possible cancer. The MCED tests and follow-up scans are provided free of charge to participants. We’ll study the test for about three years.

There is a chance of false positive results, meaning a cancer signal is detected, but there is no cancer. The MCED test is not intended to replace other screenings like mammography, colonoscopy, or Pap smear. However, it may be possible to find evidence of many different cancers for which we don’t have screenings or specific tests.

Benefits of early cancer detection.

Usually, by the time we see patients with cancer symptoms, the cancer has already progressed. For example, pancreatic cancer is at an advanced stage by the time weight loss and jaundice have set in. In many of these cases, we’re unable to operate to remove the tumor, often because the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the blood vessels or lymph nodes.

Early detection of cancer is powerful in reducing burden and death from cancer. For instance, in breast cancer, it can:

  • Reduce deaths: Screening leads to 26% fewer deaths
  • Decrease late-stage diagnosis: Screening means 29% fewer women were diagnosed with cancer that had spread to other body parts.
  • Make treatment easier: Nearly 98% of women whose breast cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage live for five years or more. Only 31% of women with advanced disease have the same outcome.
  • Reduce healthcare costs: Cancer treatment is much less expensive early in the disease.

If treatment starts before the cancer has progressed, some patients can avoid chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which can have disruptive side effects.


Innovating for our patients’ health.

At MedStar Health, we’re dedicated to patient-centered research. Our patients understand and appreciate that our participation in the Pathfinder 2 study is intended to help us learn if this test detects early cancer and thus potentially allows them to live fuller, healthier lives.

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