Angelina Jolie attracted widespread publicity when she announced that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy. In an op-ed for The New York Times, the actress revealed that she had made this decision after learning she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer due to a defective BRCA1 gene. Of writing the essay, Jolie said, “I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer. It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.” While Jolie’s influence led to an increase in BRCA gene testing, most women still cannot afford to get tested. However, Color Genomics is hoping to change this.

The startup is attempting to shake up the medical field by making genetic tests accessible for all Americans. These tests, which can cost up to $4,000, could be available for just a few hundred if Color Genomics succeeds. Currently, genetic testing is not accessible to most American women unless it is covered by their insurance. However, half of the women in the U.S. who carry two of the gene mutations linked to higher risks of developing breast and ovarian cancers do not qualify for testing under their current insurance coverage.

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Color Genomics is a Silicon Valley company whose staff is made up from former Google and Twitter developers. They are offering comprehensive genetic testing with a “spit kit” that can be ordered online for $249. The test needs to be ordered by a personal physician, but Color physicians can also approve requests. Once the kit is returned, Color Genomics analyzes 19 genes including BRCA1 and BRCA2—the two gene mutations related to breast and ovarian cancer. After results are released, testers have the option of talking to board-certified genetic counselors at Color Genomics about what their next steps should be. 

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Color Genomics has a good chance at making a difference. The startup has raised $15 million in funding from several prominent organizations and influential people including Kholsa Ventures, Formation8, Laurene Powell Jobs, Katie Stanton, Jerry Yang, and Max Levchin. The startup is currently collaborating with several well-known genetics experts including Dr. Mary-Claire King who discovered the BRCA1 gene.

According to breastcancer.org, 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2014, an estimated 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed as well as 63,570 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. About 40,000 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2014 from breast cancer, though death rates have been decreasing since 1989 — with larger decreases in women under 50. These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender (being female) and age (growing older). 

Image via: Geekwire. 

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