In 2023, an estimated 610,000 people will die of cancer in the U.S. It’s the second leading cause of death in the nation, just behind heart disease.
That’s partly because detecting cancer early is essential to treating it. Yet, recommended screenings like mammograms, pap tests and colonoscopies only screen for a handful of individual cancers.
That’s why the new Galleri Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED) blood test being offered at Wellstar MCG Health is expected to be revolutionary. It can detect more than 50 kinds of cancer using about 1.5 tablespoons of blood.
Dr. Brandy Gunsolus, who oversees pathology utilization for Wellstar MCG Health, said the vast majority of the cancers Galleri can detect don’t currently have any other type of screening method. This is particularly important for more lethal cancers that aren’t typically caught until later stages, she said.
“To be able to catch a Stage II or even a Stage I ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer, which you typically don’t catch until Stage IV, is completely life-changing,” she said. “It gives patients an increased chance of survival.”
In addition to looking for cancerous cells to determine if cancer is present, the test can also indicate in which organ system the cancer likely started. This lets the doctor know which additional tests to perform to verify the presence of cancer, such as a CT scan of a patient’s lungs.
The Galleri test development was supported by what is believed to be one of the largest study programs in genomic medicine, with more than 20,000 participants at more than 140 clinical study sites, including the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Its false-positive rate – the rate in which the test detects a cancer signal when there is no cancer present – is 0.5%.
Gunsolus said she started vetting the Galleri process this past Spring. Wellstar MCG Health is the first hospital in Georgia to offer the test.
“It’s a process where pathology looks at the lab and the test itself to ensure it’s a legitimate test and not a scam,” she said.
While the test is a breakthrough, Gunsolus said she isn’t expecting high demand at the start because the test is not currently covered by insurance, although that’s expected to change in the next 12 months to 18 months. The test is offered at a discounted rate of $799 for patients at Wellstar MCG Health. The regular price is $950 for patients outside of the health system. However, patients can use funds from their FSA or HSA to pay for the test, and a payment plan is available.
“Even though insurance doesn’t cover it yet, we wanted to go ahead and offer it for individuals like me who are very high risk,” she said. “This is a life changing screen.”
Gunsolus said she plans to take the test because her four grandparents died from cancer, and her father has cancer.
“I’m willing to put out additional money until the test is covered because it’s not a matter of if I get cancer but when,” she said.
The Galleri test is recommended for those 50 or older at elevated cancer risk. Those interested in taking the test can call 706-721-9335.