New tools to detect cancer recurrence: What cancer patients need to know
(BPT) - Without a doubt, cancer is one of the scariest diagnoses anyone may face, typically triggering a roller coaster of emotions — from fear and anxiety to anger and sadness — and sending families into turmoil. But thanks to major advances in cancer treatment, survival rates are increasing, and more people than ever are seeing their cancer go into remission.
Still, life is never the same after a battle with cancer. Even after tests show they are cancer free and life returns to normal, many live with the fear that their cancer may return, constantly dreading that the proverbial other shoe will drop and worrying about the next scan.
When cancer returns after treatment, this is known as cancer recurrence. Rates of recurrence vary widely. For instance, breast cancer patients may have a recurrence rate of 5% to 9% if treated early, whereas colorectal cancer patients could have a 17% risk after surgery. The odds depend on many factors, but research continues to show that identifying recurrence early on can help improve recovery rates or make it easier to manage the disease.
Tools for monitoring recurrence
The good news is that now there are new ways to monitor cancer recurrence with just a simple blood test. Natera’s Signatera test is a personalized blood test capable of detecting tiny amounts of cancer left in the body — right down to a single molecule of tumor DNA present in a test tube of blood. Regular monitoring using the Signatera test can provide greater peace of mind that if their cancer does return, they can catch it earlier and at a more treatable stage.
Many cancer survivors are turning to Signatera as a valuable screening tool, including Taryn Hillin, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, who at the age of 33 years old, faced a life-changing diagnosis with a rare type of neuroendocrine cancer in the uterine cervix that has a low survival rate.
In her desperate battle against the disease, she underwent aggressive treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She also changed her entire lifestyle, improving her diet, working with an oncologist to determine a supplement regimen and adding more exercise to her day.
“I’m so traumatized from cancer that every time I get even a little sick, I descend into a pit of desperation,” Hillin writes in her blog, which she uses to chronicle her ongoing battle against the disease. “Never again, I tell myself. But I am only human and cannot control everything.”
Yet today, almost three years later, there is still no evidence of her cancer recurring. Hillin’s routine surveillance program includes scans every 90 days, as well as regular blood tests with Signatera, which she says is giving her peace of mind and a sense of taking back control.
What makes this test different?
The Signatera test is custom built for each patient’s tumor mutation signature, tracking this unique fingerprint over time. For this reason, it’s a highly sensitive disease detection method that in some cases can detect recurrence months to years before imaging and scans.
Signatera can even be used during treatment to help evaluate the need for additional chemotherapy. While many of today’s tools for detecting cancer recurrence are inadequate, Signatera offers a fast, accurate and less invasive monitoring and surveillance strategy — and vital peace of mind for patients like Hillin.
Thanks to regular Signatera testing, Hillin’s UCLA doctors are planning to space out her PET scans, a type of imaging test that uses a radioactive drug to detect the abnormal metabolic rates typical of tumors. Instead, they plan to alternate between scans and Signatera testing.
“When you’re fighting the battle against cancer, you can’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out information on new tools like Signatera,” Hillin says. “I encourage everyone to get out there and use everything at their disposal, especially tests like these — it can greatly help with scan anxiety and the fear of recurrence.”
For more information, visit Natera.com or ask your doctor about Signatera.