Superstar Angelina Jolie’s shocking decision to obtain a preventative bilateral mastectomy drew great attention and headlines towards the gene cancer testing that more women are contemplating to prevent breast cancer—the most common cancer in women in the United States.
When my own sister was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, I watched her experience each phase of this taxing illness with a very different patient perspective. And yet, people are still confused surrounding breast cancer gene testing. My sister’s general surgeon attempted to seek insurance approval for her to get gene testing, given her rather young diagnosis in her 40s, but was denied. My sister was baffled: why would the insurance companies deny such an importance piece of information that can possibly help her other three sisters given her young age of diagnosis with breast cancer?
It’s not always so simple. Let me explain what the process of breast cancer gene testing really entails.
What Is Genetic Testing?
The mostly common involved and most familiar breast cancer genes are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes. This sort of gene testing can be performed on blood, saliva, or even cheek swabbing. The challenge? Hundreds of genes involving these two mutations have been discovered. Therefore, obtaining a complete test for all involved possibilities can cost up to 4,000 dollars. If patients meet certain criteria, however, insurance may cover up to 90% of the testing cost. What may be less costly and more simple, however, is if you already have an identified gene in another relative, in which testing can be more targeted and therefore much less costly.