About Color Genomics

Color Genomics is a concierge genetics company whose saliva-based tests analyze 30 different genes that can impact the most common types of hereditary cancer—including BRCA1 and BRCA2.

This way, if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, and other cancers, your physician can order the Color test as part of your personalized treatment plan. And if detected early enough, genetic testing can even improve odds of survival.

Overall, the Color process works across five steps:

  1. Purchase your kit, which is ordered through your physician and delivered to your door.
  2. Provide a saliva sample in the tube, activate your kit online, and mail it to the company.
  3. After your results are reviewed by a certified medical professional, you’ll receive an email to make an appointment with a board-certified Color genetic counselor.
  4. Based on your results, you can create a screening or prevention plan with your physician.
  5. If any information related to your results changes, Color will keep you updated.

Compared to other genetic testing services (more soon), Color claims their custom software and expert team, including personal genetic counselors, can deliver clinical-grade genetic testing at a fraction of the price.

Considering the fact that only 10-15% of cancers are caused by genetic factors, should you order a Color Genomics test? Are there other companies you should investigate?

Cancer screening is serious business, so you have some serious questions. Let’s help you find answers, starting with the basics.

What Is Cancer?

When it comes down to it, cancer is a term that describes a collection of related diseases whereby the body’s cells divide uncontrollably. Eventually, this unbridled growth spreads into surrounding tissues and other parts of the body.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer cells differ from normal cells in several ways, which makes them especially difficult to treat.

Cancer cells are less specialized (they don't have specific functions) than normal cells. They also can ignore apoptosis (programmed cell death), allowing them to live and divide for much longer periods of time than normal cells.

Cancer cells can even hide from the body’s immune system, “trick” other cells to create blood vessels to supply tumors with oxygen and nutrients, don’t produce substances that help them stick to other cells (allowing them to float throughout the body), and divide even before they’ve had time to mature.

What Causes Cancer Cells to Occur?

Inside each of our cells are chromosomes, themselves made from DNA, which work as our body’s ‘blueprint.’ DNA, in turn, is made from genes, which “regulate and maintain your body.”

In some instances, the genes that make up a DNA sequence can mutate; whether on a single base pair or across a large segment of a chromosome. When this occurs, the gene’s expression (its ability to affect change in the body) can decrease or completely go away.

Despite this effect, in many instances, these genetic mutations do not cause disease. In rare cases, however, they can cause cancer cells to form tumors and eventually spread to other parts of the body.

As noted on the Color Genomics website, about 70% of all diagnosed cancers are sporadic, which means they’re not due to one specific cause. Another 15-20% are caused by family history, but no known genetic link, while the remaining 10-15% are caused by genetic mutations passed down through families.

And it’s these genetic mutations that Color’s test was designed to identify. But how does it work?

How Does the Color Genomics Cancer Screen Work?

What Happens During the Process?

The Color cancer screen must be ordered by your physician, which they can do online or via fax. From there, the kit will be shipped directly to your door.

Once you receive your Color kit, you’ll need to refrain from eating or drinking, brushing your teeth, smoking, or chewing gum for at least 30 minutes.

Then, you’ll remove the tube from the clear tray and spit into the funnel until the amount of saliva reaches the “Fill To” line. This might take a few minutes.

Next, you’ll close the funnel lid, which will release preservation fluid into the tube. Remove the original lid, replace it with the separate blue lid, and then log on to the Color website to link your sample to your account.

You’ll send your sample back to Color by dropping the box in any USPS mailbox, which includes pre-paid postage. Turnaround time is currently 3-4 weeks, although you’ll receive an email when your sample arrives at the lab, and another once your results are ready.

Color tells us that the quality of your sample will be checked multiple times as it moves through the sequencing and interpretation process. In some instances, it may not pass because of insufficient DNA levels, or because of contamination (food, bacteria, etc.).

If this occurs, Color will contact you immediately to discuss the next steps.

Here’s a quick video that outlines the process:

What Does Color Screen For?

Once your kit is received, Color will extract DNA from your saliva sample in their CAP-accredited and CLIA-certified laboratory using a combination of custom software, robotics, and other hardware.

Once extracted, they will screen the DNA for genetic mutations related to the following cancers:

  • Men – Stomach, prostate, pancreatic, male breast, colorectal, melanoma
  • Women – Breast, colorectal, ovarian, melanoma, stomach, uterine, pancreatic

We're told that all of Color's scientists hold Ph.D. and/or MD designations and use state-of-the-art tools to classify variants according to ACMG guidelines. Based on internal testing, Color’s screens have been demonstrated to be 99.9% accurate, and every reported variant is confirmed by another independent test before being released.

For an in-depth look at Color’s process and methodology, be sure to read through their Engineered for Extreme Efficiency blog post, as well as their white paper.

What Happens Once You Receive Your Screening Results?

Before being released to you and your doctor, a certified medical profession will review your results, which will take into account your results and your family health history. All Color screens also come with a complimentary session with a board-certified genetic counselor to help address any questions you might have.

According to Color, most people receive a negative result, which means that, “No mutations associated with an increased risk for certain types of cancer were identified in any of the 30 genes analyzed.”

Keep in mind, however, that this doesn't mean you're not at risk of developing cancer, or that you currently don't have cancer. After all, as we learned in the previous section, 85-90% of all cancers are not caused by a known genetic link.

Here is a sample negative report from Color.

On the other hand, a small percentage of people will receive a positive result, which means that a mutation was identified that could increase your risk of cancer.

Similarly, this doesn’t mean that you currently have cancer or that you’re certain to develop cancer at some point in your life. It simply means that you’ll have more information to use with your doctor in the course of developing a personalized screening and prevention plan.

Here is a sample positive report.

In addition to the above, Color may also identify mutations not targeted by their screening, such as those for kidney and thyroid cancer. If this occurs, they’ll be sure to let you know.

It’s important to point out that most of us will have genetic variants of uncertain significance (the normal genetic mutations we talked about earlier).

If you learn that you test positive for certain genetic mutations, though, it’s important to notify your family members so that they can understand their own future risk.

Color is HIPPA-compliant, which means that your personal and genetic information is treated with the utmost security throughout the process.

How Much Does the Color Genomics Test Cost?

The Color cancer screening kit is $249. If your screen indicates genetic mutations, the company has partnered with the BCRA Foundation to offer testing to parents, siblings, and adult children for $50, plus S&H.

Pro tip: Color doesn’t bill insurance companies for their screening kits, although you should at least check with your provider to see if they offer reimbursement. After all, $250 is nothing to sneeze at!

As long as your sample has not been received by their lab, Color offers a 30-day refund policy on all their kits, less a $25 cancellation fee and $9.95 S&H.

If you’re unable to afford the Color screen, the company’s Every Woman Program (it’s for men, too!) may be able to help.

For questions, be sure to contact Color Genomics at (844) 362-6567 or providers@color.com.

How do these prices compare to other genetic testing services?

Color Genomics vs. Counsyl vs. Other Competitors

As technology improves to the point where these types of tests become affordable for most of us, an increasing number of direct-to-consumer genetic screening companies have entered the marketplace, including popular options like Counsyl, 23andMe, Harmony Prenatal Test, Pathway Genomics, Gene by Gene, GeneDX, deCODE Genetics, MyMedLab, and Interleukin Genetics.

There are even non-genetic screening services like Cologuard!

To help you make sense of it all, we’ve quickly compared key facts for several of the major companies below:

Company Price # Genetic Mutations Screened Sample Source
Color Genomics $249 – insurance is not billed 30 related to cancer Saliva
Counsyl $99-$599, depending on insurance 100, including chromosomal, genetic diseases, inherited cancer Blood
23andMe $199 – health and ancestry 35+ inherited conditions, 5+ wellness reports Saliva
Pathway Genomics $299-$2,999 for cancer screening Detects circulating DNA (ctDNA) to spot tumors Blood
Harmony Prenatal $800-$2,000 Trisomy 21, 18, and 13 Blood

As you can see, there are some meaningful differences between each of these companies. For example, if you're only interested in screening your unborn child for Down's Syndrome (and a couple of additional chromosomal disorders), Harmony is probably the way to go.

On the other hand, if you’re only looking to be screened for cancer, then Counsyl or Color Genomics would be better options. Focused on price? 23andMe comes in the lowest.

While we’re happy to provide you with the information, you’ll need to consult with your physician to ultimately determine which genetic screening option is right for you—if at all.

What about people who have already used Color’s genetic testing services? Were they pleased with the results?

What Are Color Genomics Customers Saying? Are These Tests Worthwhile?

Compared to many other genetic testing services, Color Genomics is one of the newer companies in the industry, having recently launched in 2015 with a singular focus: to decrease the cost—and increase access—for genetic cancer screening.

Color was founded by Othman Laraki and Elad Gil, who previously worked at Google and Twitter, respectively. Gil also holds a doctorate in cancer biology.

The problem is that, with the exception of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which can vastly increase a woman’s chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer, all of the remaining genes screened in these kinds of tests have unclear clinical value.

This is because, as was noted in a recent Wired article, “Genes are thousands of letters of DNA long, and a mutation in one letter can have no effect while a mutation in another can render the gene useless.”

In short, the medical community simply doesn’t know enough about most of these genes to understand when mutations might actually be a cause for alarm, and when they shouldn’t. Admittedly, this is where Color’s board-certified genetic counselors can enter the picture and help explain your screening results.

The National Human Genome Research Institute notes, though, that a positive result could have unintended emotional consequences, so it’s important to keep in mind these limitations.

From a physician’s perspective, Dr. Annalise Swigert, a board-certified OB/GYN, recommends genetic testing services to all her patients, since the results can “empower women and families in their reproductive decision making.”

She adds that, while today’s genetic tests aren’t completely comprehensive, most only require a small blood sample (or saliva, in the case of Color), pose no risk to the baby, and can help reveal potential issues well in advance.

In fact, Dr. Swigert notes that “80% of inherited genetic conditions will occur in families without a prior history of the disease,” so she finds them highly worthwhile.

What does this mean for Color’s screening service?

Should You Talk With Your Doctor About Color Genomics?

Outside of the emotional toll we just discussed, as well as the financial component, there aren’t a whole lot of downsides to undergoing a genetic screen from a company like Color. This is especially true if you have a family history of any of the cancer types for which their tests screen.

Just keep in mind that’s exactly what Color offers: a screen. Their tests are not predictive or diagnostic in any way. They can’t discern if you have cancer or inform you about your likelihood of getting cancer.

Quite simply, they’ll only let your know if you have one or more of 30 different genetic mutations. From there, it’ll be up to you and your physician exactly how to proceed.

For this reason, if you're considering a Color Genomics test or any other genetic screen, discuss the situation with your doctor. For many of these, they'll have to order the test anyway, at which point they can discuss the pros and cons, as well as whether or not one is right for you.

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