By David A. Schwartz
Jewish breast cancer survivors were among the people celebrating a recent United States Supreme Court decision. The high court ruled unanimously that patents cannot be held on naturally occurring human genes.
The decision came in a case in which scientists and doctors challenged the patents held by Utah-based Myriad Genetics, a company whose proprietary test is used to detect BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations that indicate an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian caners. Jewish women of Ashkenazi decent have a higher likelihood of having one of the gene mutations than women in the general population.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation and had a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed, issued a statement a few hours after the decision.
"The ruling has broad ramifications for cancer patients and individuals seeking to learn more about their genetic risk for disease," Wasserman Schultz said.
"Thanks to the Supreme Court, our nation's research institutions and medical professionals can perform second opinion testing to confirm gene mutations, aiding individuals and doctors with more information when making life-altering decisions."
Rochelle Shoretz, founder and executive director of Sharsheret, a national organization that provides support to Jewish women who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer or are at increased genetic risk, called the Supreme Court decision "far reaching."
"We anticipate hundreds of Jewish women and families will reach out to Sharsheret for information and support regarding genetic testing and counseling," Shoretz, a two-time breast cancer survivor, said.
"I think it's wonderful. There should be more companies that can do this [test]. It would definitely save more lives," said Stacey Ramer of Weston, who had a mastectomy four years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A subsequent test for the BRCA gene mutation was negative.
"It's a huge victory," said Amy Byer Shainman of Jupiter, Palm Beach County coordinator for FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). Women will be able to get a second opinion now, the test will have a lower cost and it will become more common, she said. "Before, the number one concern was cost. Insurance wouldn't cover the test."
Dr. Olaf Bodamer, a professor in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's human genetics department, said the ruling was "in favor of patients."
A number of companies now will offer the BRCA gene test, Bodamer said. "That will bring down the cost significantly. That really helps us from a clinical standpoint."
He said insurance companies refused to pay for the test for some patients and they could not afford the $3,000 out-of-pocket cost. A portion of a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation paid for the tests, Bodamer said.
Asked if he thought Obama Care would one day pay for the BRCA gene test, Bodamer said, "I'm very optimistic the Affordable Care Act will make this test available on a regular basis."