Using routine blood work to rout out cancer
In 2019, 1.7 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer, and 600,000 people died from this cruel disease.
Cancer as we know it today is devastating, in part because it is frequently identified at late stages when the disease already has spread. While tremendous work has been done to develop novel therapeutic approaches to help extend the lives of those with late stage disease, nothing is as effective as earlier detection. When diagnosed earlier, cancer is usually treated more successfully, and, in some cases, even cured.
The tools we now have – mammography for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colon cancer and low-dose CT for high-risk lung cancer – apply to less than a third of all cancers occurring today. For the vast majority of cancers, we currently have no way to screen and, only when symptoms develop, can diagnostics begin. This means precious time is lost while the cancer is growing and often spreading, before we can take action.
Even when screening options do exist, many eligible adults do not get screened. Interestingly, data we analyzed from Blue Health Intelligence®, based on covered procedures originating from Blue Cross and Blue Shield members, suggests that a large percentage of adults not adhering to routine screening guidelines are indeed getting routine blood work.
What if, as part of this routine work, a blood test for cancer were available as well? What if this test could reliably detect a variety of different cancers, including those that have no screening options today, such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer?
The easy-to-use, highly accurate blood test, CancerSEEK, is designed to be used as a screening tool in otherwise healthy individuals, and to detect multiple different types of cancer, earlier. We envision a future where routine preventative care includes this type of blood test for cancer, just as patients are now routinely tested for early stages of heart disease.
There are important questions and considerations to making this vision a reality. It means designing a test that leverages next-generation technologies in a cost-effective manner, but most importantly, analyzing it extensively through clinical trials and in real-world settings, to ensure it delivers incredibly consistent high performance, at little to no risk for patients. Appropriately demonstrating the benefits and risks to patients through these studies is absolutely critical to building a trusted relationship with patients, providers, health systems and health insurers, including publicly supported programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
But that’s the minimum we should expect.
The deeper challenge to implementing this vision lies in just that: implementing it thoughtfully. Think about the patient who is facing the reality that he or she may have cancer and must now navigate a daunting path towards answers. Think about the primary care physician – already packing as much as possible into each precious minute with patients – who may now need to quarterback a new type of diagnostic and care journey.
Developing CancerSEEK in a real-world setting is not just about demonstrating performance. It’s about evaluating all of the ways these challenges may manifest themselves in practice and ensuring we address them appropriately, creatively and thoughtfully.
This means listening to and engaging deeply with our caregivers, health systems and everyday Americans across diverse settings. It means partnering with and learning from patients, physicians and health insurers.
If we do this well, we will be able to shift the cancer paradigm dramatically to one where diagnosing cancer at earlier stages is a step on the path to more successful treatment, and even cure.
Thrive is the most recent winner of the BlueCross BlueShield Data Innovation Challenge.
Thrive Earlier Detection Corp. is a health care company focused on incorporating earlier cancer detection into routine medical care to extend and save lives. Thrive is developing CancerSEEK, a liquid biopsy test that is designed to detect many cancers at earlier stages of disease that will serve as the core of its integrated cancer information offering. CancerSEEK is designed to be administered to healthy adults during routine medical care, such as a yearly checkup, alongside existing cancer screening tools.
Leveraging the power of medical and pharmacy claims data from more than 190 million Americans, Blue Health Intelligence (BHI) delivers insights that empower health care organizations to improve patient care, reduce costs, and optimize performance. Our team of data analysts, clinicians, IT experts, and epidemiologists provide analytics, software-as-a-service, and in-depth consulting to health care stakeholders.