Free genetic test helps women, families get answers

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Morehouse School of Medicine cancer surgeon Dr. Derrick Beech thinks The Color Test, a new genetic screening tool for hereditary cancers, could be game-changer.

First, there's the ease of it.

"It's a just a simple test that collects some saliva from the patient,”  Dr. Beech says. “It takes less than two minutes to do it. Again no needles, no blood-drawing.”

Then, Carla Porter says, there's the price tag.

"It did not cost me anything,” she says. “This was a blessing, this was an absolute blessing."

Dr. Beech believes the testing could give women and men information they might not have been able to afford to go in search of on their own.

"A year ago, two years ago, to get genetic testing for ovarian cancer and breast cancer would've cost the patient $3,000, just for the testing,” says Dr. Beech.

Now, through something called The Every Woman program, Morehouse School of Medicine is one of 4 U.S. centers offering The Color Test, and follow up genetic counseling, at no charge.

Typically, the test kit sells for about $250.

Morehouse School of Medicine began offering the Color Test to high-risk women, like Carla.

"So, women with a known history of breast cancer, women who have developed breast cancer at a young age, women with a strong family history of breast cancer,” says Dr. Beech.  “And women or men with a strong family history of breast cancer."

Now Dr. Beech says they’re expanding the testing program.

"We've extended that to almost anyone, quite honestly, especially women of color, African-American and Latino women,” he says.

The Color Test, produced by the biotech company Color Genomics, screens for 30 changes in a person's DNA that are known to be linked to a higher risk of certain hereditary cancers, including the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations.

"The majority of patients will have a negative result, so they won't have any risk, and they won't have any mutation,” says Dr. Beech.

But about 7% will. 

And that's where Carla comes in. 

In 1990, she lost her mother,  whom she calls "the love of my life,"  to breast cancer, and before that, in childhood, she lost her grandmother to the same disease.  Then, in August of 2009, Porter found herself facing her own battle.

"I was diagnosed with stage 2, HER+ breast cancer myself,” she says. “And the fight began."

Porter pushed through 2 years of chemotherapy and several surgeries. 

Then, she took The Color Test.  When it showed she carried a BRCA gene mutation,  she called her sister first.

“I explained to her that I had the BRCA gene, and she immediately said she wanted to get tested as well.   She finally got tested, and it came back that she did have the gene,” Porter says. "Less than six weeks after being tested, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself."

Carla's sister recently finished her last chemotherapy treatment.  And Carla has undergone surgery to dramatically reduce her risk of ovarian cancer.  She says she knows cancer is  scary, and it might be easier to not want to know your risk.  

"But this isn't about just you,” she says. “It's about your children and you children's children. It's about knowing your family history."

For more information on how to get this free genetic screening test at Morehouse School of Medicine, go to or call (404) 756-1400.