UW joins elite effort for better cancer tests in primary care

News Archive

UW joins elite effort for better cancer tests in primary care

Family Medicine will partner in creating, testing diagnostics; global group’s goal is to recognize cancers faster and more accurately
Brian Donohue

Primary-care doctors make first-line decisions about which patients – say, with an abnormal mole or a gastric complaint – should be referred out for cancer tests that are often expensive, invasive or difficult to schedule quickly.

“That uncertainty is part of our everyday work as family doctors,” said Dr. Matthew Thompson, director of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a practitioner at the UW Neighborhood Northgate Clinic in Seattle.

Matthew Thompson
Dr. Matthew Thompson directs the family medicine program in the UW School of Medicine.
picture of Dr. Matthew Thompson

So he’s jazzed about his department’s inclusion in an international effort that aspires to get better cancer diagnostics into primary-care doctors’ hands – to recognize cancers faster and reduce unwarranted referrals that wring patients’ emotions and wallets.

“These technologies will take investment and development and testing, and I think primary care doctors will welcome that, as will our patients,” Thompson said.

“CanTest,” a $6 million project funded by Cancer Research UK, makes UW Medicine a partner of the University of Cambridge and a handful of other elite research schools around the world; UW Family Medicine will direct its small share into the Primary Care Innovation Lab

“When the right test and technology comes up, we want to see which clinics in our WWAMI-based Practice & Research Network would be good sites for further studies,” Thompson said, referring to a group of 60 clinics across Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

“Some of this is sharing; maybe there’s something that works in Australia or Denmark that we could be using here. How can we learn from each other across countries with the same kind of cancer issues?”

lung cancer test
Owlstone Inc.
Technology aiming to screen for lung cancer with an exhalation is an example of a diagnostic pursued by this research grant.
picture of a man blowing into a breath analyzer

Over a five-year span of the grant, Cancer Research UK will train and support scientists to develop and share new screenings.

“We want to nurture a new generation of researchers from a variety of backgrounds to work in primary-care cancer diagnostics, creating an educational melting pot to rapidly expand the field internationally,” said Dr. Fiona Walter, co- lead investigator at Cambridge.

Dr. Willie Hamilton, co-lead researcher from the University of Exeter, said: “As a GP (general practitioner) myself, I know it can be frustrating to wait weeks for results before making any decisions for my patients. We’re trying to reduce this time by assessing ways that GPs could carry out these tests by themselves, as long as it’s safe and sensible to do so.”

“We’re open to assessing many different tests, and we’re excited to hear from potential collaborators.”

In addition to Hamilton, Walter and Thompson,  the project’s senior faculty include Richard Neal, Yoryos Lyratzopoulos, Jon Emery, Hardeep Singh and Peter Vedsted. The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is the only other U.S. site.