A Silicon Valley start-up is setting out to make genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer mutations not only easier, but more affordable for women. Color Genomics says it could "democratize access to genetic testing" for breast cancer risk genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 with a saliva test costing just $249, which was made available Tuesday, reports the New York Times. Other tests, typically reserved for cancer patients or those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, can cost up to $4,000, TechCrunch reports. The test will also screen for 17 other cancer-risk genes, says CEO Elad Gil, a Google and Twitter alum with a PhD in genetics. He notes many women can afford the test without insurance. A geneticist and unpaid adviser for the company says the test could benefit many, as half of women with mutations don't qualify for genetic testing.
Genetic counseling is also available for buyers, who will receive a kit by mail. Test results, reviewed by a doctor, will be available four to eight weeks after a saliva sample is returned, Bloomberg reports. Color Genomics—which has raised about $15 million from investors, including Steve Jobs' widow—is also planning to make the test available for free to women in low-income areas. But critics say the test could do more harm than good. Another company, Myriad Genetics, found it could not determine if a gene increased a person's risk of cancer 2% of the time. The rate for other genes could be as high as 30% percent, a geneticist says, meaning tests may leave women confused about their cancer risk. Experts also say many women who aren't at risk may get tested, which would boost "the overall cost of testing per cancer case prevented," the Times reports. (Colon cancer screening also recently got easier.)