If you've ever wondered what your personal risk for developing breast cancer is, there's a new genetic test set to come out of Silicon Valley that could tell you exactly this. The test, which is being developed by startup Color Genomics, could dramatically revolutionize the world of cancer screenings for one simple reason: It's a whole lot cheaper than current genetic tests for the BCR1 and BCR2 genes are. And that's good news for everyone.
Color Genomics, the company behind this new initiative, has a mission to “democratize access to genetic testing," according to company executive Dr. Elad Gil. The genetic test they are developing will certainly do that, as it will sell for an estimated $249 in retail. Standard genetic tests for the two BCR genes, meanwhile, can cost as much as $3,000, according to the Department of Public Health — and, as the New York Times reports, insurers won't typically cover the costs. The difference between Color Genomic's test and the current costs of genetic breast cancer screenings is huge — but with Color Genomics adding their hat to the ring, it might help make such testing affordable for many more women.
One reason that this democratization has already not been done is because of former patent laws. Up until a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the company Myriad Genetics had a patent on this type of gene testing, which was invalidated. This leaves room for companies like Color Genomics to now step in and innovate the once monopolized field.
Because of the current hefty price tag on genetic cancer screenings and their low accessibility, many women aren't currently able to get them. Gil figures that because of the low price point at which they'll be offering the test, they can eliminate the often dreadful middleman of health insurance altogether. For those who cannot afford a test on their own, Color Genomics will even offer free testing services.
How It Works:
The screening test is saliva-based, so you don't have to worry about painful needles or time consuming bloodwork. Your saliva is then analyzed in a lab and looks closely at BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are the two genes which most often carry mutations that can cause breast cancer, as well as 17 other genes which also can indicate a mutation. So after swabbing the inside of your mouth, you just send the test back to the company and wait for them to send back the results.
Besides the obvious lower cost of genetic cancer screenings Color Genomics will be offering, some of the other benefits of this new technology include the expanded access to the screenings and a potentially more informative data collection process. Geneticist Dr. Mary-Claire King has said that all women ages 30 and over should be offered offered cancer screenings, which isn't possible under the problematic current guidelines. Many women have a family history of breast cancer that is through their paternal side, which is often completely ignored when applying for genetic testing candidacy. This test could completely change that and leave it up to women as to how and when they get testing.
This news has not come without its critics, however, as many say that this testing could actually cause the overall costs of genetic cancer screenings to rise. This would be due to the predicted increase in demand, which could ultimately hurt those who need cancer screenings the most. There's also the fact that it could cause more women to be paranoid that they have breast cancer when they don't or may not, as many causes don't come back as being clearly benign or malignant. It's projected that an increase in testing could cause an increase in cases where researchers can't tell if the mutations are dangerous or not. According to Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of the clinical genetics service at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, has spoken out to the New York Times saying that “We have to be careful that we are not just increasing this group of worried-well who have incomplete information." There was also an announcement made today that Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are teaming up to create more accurate genetic cancer screenings, which could potentially eliminate the need for this test altogether.
Color Genomics is planning to sell the kits through their website, although another company who did this same thing was shut down by the FDA two years prior. So, stay tuned to see how this all plays out and if these low-cost genetic cancer screenings will come through after all.
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