Monday, August 05, 2013
There is a long, strong history of cancer in my family, most of it from my dad's side of the family. My dad. His dad. His mom. His sister. His mom's sisters. His mom's sister's daughters. His dad's sisters. His dad's brothers. The males have had varying types of cancer: pancreatic, prostate, esophageal. All of the females had breast cancer. It's like a dark, twisted family tree, and when I look at it, my stomach twists up like those imaginary branches because I start to think that it's just a matter of time for me.
Alfie says I'm being a ridiculous, paranoid, hypochondriac. Family history is only one factor, and he is adamant about the power of positive thinking -- I might not actually cause my own cancer with so many negative thoughts, but all the stress I incur while thinking about it can't be good. Of course, I know he's right. I have thought about getting tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation, long before Angelina Jolie announced that she had had the test (and susequent mastectomy). But the test can be prohibitively expensive -- and since I don't have a first degree female relative (i.e. my mom or sister) with breast cancer (my grandmother and aunt were the closest), my insurance turned me down to subsidize the cost.
The BRCA1 gene test may be out of my league, but a $99 DNA test? That I can do. 23andMe is an at-home DNA testing service that provides over 240 health reports analyzing your risk for a variety of conditions and diseases, all for $99. It's also the largest DNA-based ancestry service worldwide.
When you sign up with 23andMe, they send you a do-it-yourself, at-home DNA collection kit. Everything you need to collect and send a sample of your DNA (contained in your saliva) is included, along with clear, step-by-step instructions.
The hardest part is gathering enough spit in your mouth to fill the collection tube! (I'm kidding, it only takes a couple of minutes).
Once you've collected your saliva, you seal the vial and place it in a ziploc bag.
23andMe even provides a mailing package and pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope. All you have to do is drop it in the mail, and your DNA is on its way to the 23andMe labs for testing and analysis.
Approximately 4-6 weeks after you mail out your sample, you'll get an email informing you that your results are ready. You can log on to your 23andMe account to view a huge list of conditions that your DNA sample was tested for, grouped according to risk level (conditions that you are at higher than average risk for, conditions that you are at average risk for, and conditions that you are at lower risk for). You'll get a better understanding of your genetic propensity towards a variety of conditions, from the well-known like obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, to more obscure ones like atrial fibulation (irregular heartbeat).
For the purposes of this review, I'm only going to discuss 2 of my results:
First, my risk of breast cancer is apparently below average! Not only that, 23andMe actually does test for 3 variations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene -- and I don't have them. Of course, that's only 3 mutations out of hundreds, and I'm guessing the test that Angelina Jolie had looks at all or almost all of them. But still, that's 3 down. I never would have guessed. Of course, I'm still going to do everything I can to lower the risk factors under my control, like not smoking, eating healthy, natural foods, and getting regular exercise.
Second, it appears I have a mutation in my CRTF gene that may be related to cystic fibrosis. There has never been anyone in my family with CF that I know of, but in order to have CF, a person must have inherited the CRTF gene from both parents. It's not earth-shattering news. None of my kids have CF -- but I may have passed it on to them. I will definitely share this information with them when they grow up so that if they decide to have kids, they can get themselves tested with 23andMe to find out if they did inherit the mutation, and they can ask their partners to get themselves tested for the mutation as well. This single piece of information alone has made the 23andMe service invaluable to me and my family!
As for the BRCA1 gene test, I'll keep my fingers crossed that over time, it will get more affordable. After all, when 23andMe was founded, the price of the personal genetic service was $1,000 and over time they have been able to reduce it to $99! So anything is possible. In the meantime, I intend to take the results of my 23andMe test to heart and remind myself that I don't need to stay up at night worrying about a disease that I may never end up having.
Disclosure:I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.