Back in 2007, I had a patient who was uninsured with a strong family history of breast cancer. At the time, the only place you could get tested for the gene mutations strongly associated with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, was this company called Myriad. They had a monopoly on the test. I thought the patient really needed to know her risk (which could be as high as 87% likelihood of getting breast or ovarian cancer). I called up Myriad and asked how much their test would cost a cash-paying patient. They said $4000. I asked if they had some sort of financial assistance programs. They said nope. Of course this made me angry. 

And now it’s 2013. Back in January I joined 23andMe, spit in a cup, sent it off to them, and found that I have none of the three most popular BRCA mutations. And this only cost me $99 cash. So…in 5 years or so, the cost of understanding your risk went from $4000 for testing two genes to $99 for sequencing much of your DNA. And that’s a beautiful thing. 

I applaud Angelina Jolie for being open and honest about her decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. Celebrities can shed a vital light on important and difficult issues to popularize. And she’s done a remarkable job, unlike Jenny McCarthy. By being science and data-driven, you can save lives. By being emotional and scientifically ignorant, you can take lives. 

photo by Martin Schoeller