Taking early detection a step further

New genetic test can show cancer risk

POULSBO — Medical professionals say early detection is key to beating cancer. A new type of test takes early detection a step further.

Peninsula Cancer Center is now offering to its established patients a genetic test developed by Color Genomics that can show if someone is at risk of hereditary cancer, so they can work with their doctors to reduce the likelihood that cancer will develop.

“This type of testing has an impact on your family as well,” said Carmelina Heydrich, licensed certified genetic counselor for Color Genomics.

If an individual’s test results come back positive, that patient’s first-degree family members over the age of 18 will be offered Color’s exam for $50 since there’s a 50 percent chance they too will carry that mutation.

Sarah Popelka, a Color Genomics clinical field specialist, said the testing can be particularly helpful to people who don’t know their family’s medical history.

Here’s how it works: A patient provides a saliva sample, which is taken to a lab, said Heydrich. The sample is analyzed for 30 types of genes and eight varieties of cancer. The results are returned in three to four weeks.

Dr. Berit Madsen, radiation oncologist and co-founder of Peninsula Cancer Center, said the results are private to the individual and are kept on file, and individuals who could potentially carry a hereditary cancer are notified of advancements in prevention and treatment.

Heydrich said Color Genomics worked closely with the medical genetics lab at University of Washington to develop the genetic test.

Earlier genetic tests cost as much as $4,000 per test. However, an earlier testing company lost its patent in 2013, opening the door for other companies like Color Genomics to create their own tests — and at a fraction of the cost. The exam offered by Color Genomics typically costs $249; for Peninsula Cancer Center’s established patients, it’s $149.

Popelka said her company is working to “democratize access to genetic cancer testing.”

Heydrich said of her company’s involvement in driving down testing prices, “It’s really exciting to see. Even if you have $4,000, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to want to spend it on a test.”

Early detection

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And knowledge of family history is a powerful weapon.

Popelka told a story of an employee at Color Genomics that took the test. During the employee’s second pregnancy, she felt a lump in a breast, which her doctors thought was an inflammation. Because of what she learned from her genetic test, she pushed back and asked for a biopsy a couple days after giving birth. The inflammation turned out to be a tumor, and she successfully underwent treatment.

Popelka said testing positive doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get cancer, and testing negative doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t. Rather, it means those tested can be more aware and, in some cases, be better prepared to take preventative measures.

In that way, Popelka said, the genetic tests are “99.9 percent effective.”

Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com.

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