What are multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests?

Multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests are blood-based tests (also called liquid biopsies) that are designed to identify the presence of cancer for more than one cancer at a time in early, more treatable stages. MCED tests:

  • Are designed to detect many types of cancers by looking for cancer signals in the blood.
  • Are designed to be complementary to existing screenings.
  • Use genomic science and machine learning to transform detection.
  • Are being developed by multiple companies and being studied at the top cancer research institutions in America.1
  • Are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  • Are not currently covered by health insurance plans

Published data indicate that some of these tests can screen for many cancers at the same time, including some rare cancers. Why do we need multi-cancer early detection tests?

Early detection saves lives. Unfortunately, the important benefits of early cancer detection are not reaching enough people.

The routine cancer screening tests currently available and covered by Medicare detect only five cancer types—lung, breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate—which means there are no early detection tests for most cancer types. But when cancer is detected early, nearly nine of every 10 cancer patients will live five years or longer.2

A blood test capable of detecting many cancer types—most of which have no recommended screening in the U.S—could have a tremendous impact in helping people access more effective, efficient treatment.

1. Lennon AM, Buchanan AH, Kinde I, Warren A, Honushefsky A, et al. “Feasibility of blood testing combined with PET-CT to screen for cancer and guide intervention.” Science, July 3, 2020. Vol. 369, Issue 6499.

Hubbell E, Clarke CA, Aravanis AM, Berg CD. “Modeled Reductions in Late-state Cancer with a Multi-Cancer Early Detection Test.” American Association for Cancer Research, published first December 16, 2020, Vol. 30, Issue 3, pp. 460-468.

2. Noone AM, Howlader N, Krapcho M, Miller D, Brest A, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2015, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,, based on November 2017 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2018.

Sign up to get the latest about cancer prevention and early detection directly in your inbox.