At one time, the only way for women to get breast cancer gene screening for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene tests was to be referred to a genetic counselor. She would expect to pay $4000 and find it difficult for insurance to pay for these tests due to strict criteria, often excluding women who don’t have a family history of cancer at a young age or don’t meet other requirements often defined as “high risk” for breast cancer. Unfortunately limitations included access and cost.
But now there is more affordable and accessible testing available thanks to Color Genomics, a new company founded by ex-Googlers Orthman Laraki and Elad Gil. Their company’s Color Test is a mail order, at home saliva test that costs $249 and tests 19 genes connected to breast and ovarian cancers, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes can indicate a risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer much greater than the national average.
Women in the general population have about an 8% chance of developing breast cancer by age 70, and up to 12% by age 85. About 1.3% of American women will develop ovarian cancer. Unfortunately gene mutations put women at risk for developing cancer at a much younger age. Knowing ones risk empowers women and gives them choices in choosing between close monitoring or invasive prevention.
I know this may sound a little sketchy considering what happened with the much publicized genetic testing company 23andMe. The FDA has ordered 23andMe to stop selling genetic tests because it cannot prove it’s tests to be accurate or reliable. The difference between 23andMe and Color Genomics is that the Color Genomics Color Test needs to be ordered by a physician. Also, after a woman’s test is sent back to be analyzed, she is connected with a counselor to explain and discuss the results with her, which 23andMe never provided or recommended. At 23andMe the customer was expected to interpret and treat herself.
Color genomics is also CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) certified as are tests that already conduct physician-ordered BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 tests such as Myriad and Ambry. All 4 owners of the company have a mixed background in genetics and software. The Color Test was developed with researchers from Stanford, UCSF, and MIT and the company is working with genetic experts from U Penn, UCSF and University of Washington including a partnership with Mary-Claire King, who discovered the BRCA 1 gene.
The difference for patients is not only the convenience of at home testing but also the low cost. Color Genomics uses proprietary technology, which cuts out hours of labor of the testing process. It’s cost savings also carry over to the customer because it doesn’t work with insurance companies therefore taking the work required for insurance processing out of the picture.
You may still not want to get tested for breast or ovarian cancer genes, but to know that it’s available in a private, cost effective way can mean the difference in a life saving procedure or not.