In 2013, Angelina Jolie, whose mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56, tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene. Jolie decided to have a pre-emptive double mastectomy, raising awareness about the role of genetics in predicting cancer risk for women around the world.
"My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent chance of breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different for each woman," Jolie wrote in an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times. "Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy." In March the following year, Jolie also had her ovaries removed as a further safety precaution.
Since then, interest in genetic testing for all types of cancer has increased, but until recently, such testing had to be done in a doctor's office or specialty lab. Now, a company called Color Genomics, has created an affordable saliva test for home use that makes gaining information about your genetic risk for most common hereditary cancers -- including breast, ovarian, colon, and pancreatic cancer -- much easier. The test analyzes 30 specific genes -- including BRCA1 and BRCA2 -- to help women and men understand their risk. It includes phone-based genetic counseling to help you interpret the results and plan for any next steps, if they are indicated by your results.
The process is very simple. First, you order a test from Color.com online. It comes in a cute box that makes the whole thing feel less intimidating. Next, you provide a saliva sample -- by drooling into a tube. They have a very short video that shows you how to do this properly if you are not a natural drooler, or dislike printed instructions. Then, you seal the tube, place it into the pre-paid return box included in the kit, and mail it in. A few weeks later, your results are available online, and you schedule a phone call with one of Color's genetic counselors. During your conversation, you review what the test results mean for you and your preventative healthcare plans. The test covers 30 genes -- and some are much more concerning than others. For example, women who test positive for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 will have a 50-85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and a 10%-50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. If you do test positive for one of these genes, you don't necessarily have to choose the extreme measures Angelina Jolie chose. You would likely let your doctor know, and get screened much earlier and more frequently for breast and ovarian cancer than is standard practice.
Color Genomics Kits retail for $249, which includes the phone consultation with a genetic counselor. If you test positive for a mutation, you can get family members over 18, including siblings, children and parents, kits to test themselves for $50 each.
This clever home healthcare solution makes cancer gene screening easy and straightforward. Color Genomics is a wonderful addition to the growing remote healthcare marketplace.