Bay Area company creates test that detects recurrence of colon cancer sooner than scans

SAN CARLOS, Calif. (KGO) -- A Silicon Valley lab is fighting the battle against a disease that took more American lives than COVID-19 last year; cancer.

Natera has developed a way to identify fragments of cancer cells in blood to warn when a patient might be having a relapse.

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"We studied over 2,000 patients, and what we've shown consistently is that we can detect cancer recurrence 92% of the time and up to two years earlier than imaging alone," said Steve Chapman, Natera CEO.

COVID-19 has caused some cancer patients to avoid seeing their doctor in person due to their compromised immune systems. Natera's technology requires a blood test in which cancer markers can be identified at the molecular level. A blood draw can be done by sending out a mobile phlebotomist, minimizing exposure to others.

"I think it's safer to know that they come out. I would imagine one person come in versus maybe 20 people in a doctor's office," said David Fryday, a colon cancer patient. Every six months, he's screened with Natera's Signatera DNA-based diagnostic test.

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"If we can catch the cancer early before it's had the chance to metastasize all around your body and before it's had the chance to become strong, we can potentially do surgery and take out that recurrent cancer or, in the future, we can give you a drug therapy that's based on molecular recurrence," said Natera's Chapman.

Signatera removes a barrier to testing among cancer survivors during the pandemic. The procedure is covered by Medicare.

"It gives me peace of mind that I know that I will spot it earlier and maybe not have to have as much chemotherapy if it ever came back," said Fryday.

However, it doesn't address a growing concern that patients are not getting screened and diagnosed, potentially leading to an increase in deaths. Cancer like COVID-19 is not taking a holiday.

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