Anyone over 40 can now pay for a sophisticated early screening. But it is expensive and, asks Sophie Morris, will it save lives or just cause unnecessary alarm?


I wasn’t expecting my appointment for a new and potentially life-saving cancer screening test to feel like a visit to the nail salon, but that’s the best comparison I can draw.

“I’d like to make you aware that if you choose to visit our Westfield clinic, it isn’t in a private area,” said the woman booking a time for me over the phone.

“What does that mean?” I asked. “I’d be on view to shoppers?”

“That’s right,” she replied.

I didn’t feel like sharing the £1,200 blood draw with passing hordes, so I chose a different clinic, in Shoreditch, east London. I wandered past busy restaurants to Boxpark, a semi-permanent hub of shops, street food spots and seasonal pop-ups constructed from shipping containers, to the Get A Drip clinic, trying to prepare mentally for what might be a life-changing few minutes.

THE TEST Most Get A Drip clients come for its IV Vitamin Drip “therapy”, a cutting-edge wellness treatment or 21st-century hangover remedy, depending on your perspective. From £100 a pop for a Basic Hydration Drip, to £850 for a Limitless option, I hope it’s more effective than ibuprofen and Berocca.

Other niche and futuristic treatments available here include cryotherapy, ozone therapy, compression therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, all cultish wellbeing products that offer various unquantified therapeutic benefits.

But I’m here for something much more interesting, an early cancer screening test that has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people worldwide, by detecting even the tiniest evidence of cancer cells within a small blood sample, a noninvasive procedure that traces cells back to their source. The TruCheck test is the only cancer screening of its kind available in the UK, and has the ability to detect 70 different kinds of cancer, its makers say, including the top four - breast, prostate, lung and bowel - which between them account for over half of all new cases.

Last month, it emerged that 8,000 British people are dying unnecessarily every year due to poor cancer treatment. A coalition of charities called the Less Survivable Cancers

Taskforce ranked the UK 28th out of 33 countries for lung and stomach cancer survival rates. If we can detect cancerous cells earlier, the hope is treatment will be more successful.

“Knowing where in the body the primary tumour is located, and being able to identify tumours early, can speed up diagnosis and treatment for patients,” Dr Vineet Datta, pioneer of the TruCheck Intelli test, which launched in the UK last year, tells me. “We have a serious issue with late diagnosis of cancer, despite recent advances. The key remains early detection and access to fasttracked diagnostic care. A simple blood draw provides convenience, ease of access and no risk of any radiation exposure.”

Datta is the executive director of Datar Cancer Genetics, the company behind the test I take, which is now available in more than 30 countries and accredited for use across the EU.

I am welcomed by a friendly clinic manager and settle into a large reclining chair to read a magazine. I have already met the pre-requirements for the test - over 40 and with no existing symptoms - and discussed my own health with a doctor over the phone.

I have previously had surgery following an abnormal smear and last year I saw the NHS about bowel symptoms, but the doctor was happy that these had been cleared up and I was suitable to take this new test.

The nurse arrives and deftly fills her vials with my blood. A few minutes later, there’s a plaster on my arm and I’m free to go. I feel fine but use the minuscule blood loss as an excuse to eat some biscuits.

This sort of technology doesn’t come cheap; at £1,200, it’s only £200 less than Bupa quoted me for an annual policy for my whole family, and it’s recommended annually. I was offered the test at no cost as part of its launch in the UK - it is also available via Goodbody, which has more than 100 clinics. You can even have a nurse visit you at home.

In the UK alone, there are 375,000 new cancer cases each year and 167,000 related deaths, according to Cancer Research UK. Advances in NHS screening - there are agedependent national screening programmes for breast, bowel and cervical cancers - have led to earlier detection rates and fewer deaths.

The TruCheck Intelli test - if it lives up to the hype - is a radical jump forward. According to TruCheck, the test can identify 70 cancers by analysing the blood for circulating tumour cells (CTCs) and cluster cells. It can also pinpoint where any tumour is, which should lead to more effective treatment. The hope is that tests like these will lead to far more early detection. At the moment, almost half of all cancer cases are diagnosed at stage three or four.

Former cricketer Ian Botham, 67, and his 45-year-old son have spoken about having the test after watching too many friends die because they didn’t keep on top of their health. “Shane Warne was only 52,” Lord Botham told The Times of the popular Australian cricketer, who died in March 2022. “If he’d spoken to a cardiologist, had some tests done, he’d have had another 30 years.”

Botham said that cancer has always been a concern of his, and that having the test, which did not reveal any cancerous cells, has given him “a lot of comfort and peace of mind”.

Because it is so new, there is little to no evidence on how anyone receiving a cancer diagnosis from the blood test might then fare. One client, Ronny from Somerset, said it set his mind at rest.

“My dad died of cancer aged 68, as did a dear cousin, aged only 58. I am very aware that prevention is better than cure. Aged 64, I want to continue to enjoy a healthy and active life, so when I heard about this test I knew it would be money well spent.

“Understanding whether I have signs of cancer has not only helped reduce my own health anxieties, but also for my family who can now rest assured that, for now, their husband, dad and grandad is healthy and sticking around.”


Despite the price tag, it sounds like a silver bullet. The method has been tested on 40,000 individuals and is marketed to anyone who is asymptomatic but has a high risk or family history of cancer, or wants to include it in yearly check-ups.

But though TruCheck claims a 96.3 per cent accuracy rate, there is always some risk. In this case, the accuracy for negative results is 88 per cent, which means that some people will be wrongly reassured.

“That’s the limitation of the test,” explains Dr Datta. “Most screening tests come with some degree of false positives or negatives, even mammograms, colonoscopies and PSA [prostate cancer] blood tests.”

He says there may be 10 to 12 people in every 100 with cancer who have extremely low levels of CTCs but return a negative result.

“The group actively advises that the Trucheck test is not intended to substitute the standard of care procedures for cancer screening, and the limitations of the test include the possibilities of false positives.”

Get A Drip’s chief medical officer, Dr Matthew Calcasola, says: “While it should not replace conventional cancer screening, it is a powerful addition to overall health screening which will speed up diagnosis and treatment, enabling doctors to focus treatment on the required areas.”

I asked consultant colorectal surgeon Tamzin Cuming, who specialises in anal cancer, for her thoughts about the test. She says: “The idea of a blood test like TruCheck to catch cancers early is hugely attractive and measuring biomarkers such as this test does, circulating cancer cells, is likely to be the future.

“I would caution going into this before we have clinical evidence… that this testing in its current form does indeed lead to earlier diagnosis and improvements in mortality without damaging psychological impact.

“There is also a risk that those who can afford it get the test, and then leapfrog NHS waiting lists, which will widen the existing socio-economic health outcome disparities.”

There are no plans to introduce the test to the NHS. Only one similar test is currently in NHS clinical trials, the Galleri Grail test, which can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear, and has so far tested 140,000 individuals. The aim is to see if this kind of blood test can reduce the number of people developing advanced stage cancer.

HEALTH ANXIETY Like almost everyone, I have lost family members to cancer, but no close blood relatives. When I talk to friends who have, they are mostly excited about the potential of early screening. Others, who I had put in the health conscious to health anxious category, are concerned how I will manage to wait the two to three weeks from blood draw to results.

One friend lost both her parents to bowel cancer and recently received a false positive on a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which she had paid for privately, at 46. She said she is much happier to have endured the few weeks of worry before further tests showed she was cancer-free, than not to have had the test.

Will this kind of test prey on the so-called worried well? “It prioritises the not-yet-ill over the actually sick,” according to consultant obstetrician Professor Susan Bewley. “These companies are dumping anxiety on people. Being so paranoid about your health can spoil living.”

Blood testing has been under scrutiny because of the Theranos scandal, in which its chief executive, Elizabeth Holmes, made fraudulent claims about her company and went to prison. But the testing market is growing rapidly.

How do I fare? When I still haven’t received my results after the promised 12 days, I figure someone is about to call me with bad news, until a good result drops into my inbox. I feel remarkably fortunate. I have been gifted a bill of good health.

I’m not sure I deserve it. It’s a lottery but the test has at least left me more mindful of the risks and the statistics.

Get A Drip offers the TruCheck Early Cancer Screening Test at four London clinics for £1,200

FAST FACTS UK CANCER Cancer is the leading cause of death in the UK, ahead of heart disease and dementia.

Despite mortality rates falling by 19 per cent since the 1970s, 460 people still die from the disease every day in the UK.

One in two people born in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime.

Four in 10 cancer cases in the UK can be prevented.

In 2022-23, a higher proportion of cancers than ever before were diagnosed at an early stage: 58 per cent at stage one or two (more than 110,000 patients).

The number of cancer cases in the UK is projected to rise by a third, to 506,000 new cases per year by 2038-40.