The Breast Cancer Gene Test Monopoly Is Over

Quest Diagnostics will now offer a lower priced test.

When Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she had undergone a double mastectomy after learning that she carried gene mutations with an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer, it put the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in the spotlight. Boston magazine contributing editor Grace Talsun also wrote a brave essay about her own difficult decision to undergo preemptive surgery after taking the test. But until now, there was only one company (Myriad Genetics) producing the test for consumer use, and the expensive price tag (around $3,500) deterred many people from taking action.

On Tuesday, Quest Diagnostics became the largest U.S. company (revenue-wise) to start offering gene-based tests for inherited forms of breast cancer. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ended Myriad’s monopoly on the tests ruling that naturally occurring human genes could not be patented.

According to the National Cancer Institute, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers. Together, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for about 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers and about five to 10 percent of all breast cancers. In addition, mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 account for around 15 percent of ovarian cancers. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer kills about 458,000 people each year and it is estimated that one in 300 to one in 500 women carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

The Quest BRCA tests are now available in 49 states and it’s currently awaiting a state review in New York, where it is expected to become available later this year, the company said in a press release. Quest has more than 2,100 centers in the United States including 10 centers within seven miles of Boston.

The new test still doesn’t come cheap. Quest tests will cost about $2,500, which is a drop from the $3,000 to $4,000 Myriad had charged for its tests, but still not a price the average consumer can afford. Quest said in the press release that the company believes the vast majority of women for whom BRCA mutation testing would be appropriate will have it covered under health insurance plans. Check with your provided to see if you qualify.

“Patients need to understand their cancer risks in order to make the most informed and timeliest decisions about their health,” Jon Cohen, chief medical officer for Quest Diagnostics, said in a statement.