The Supreme Court ruling that human genes cannot be patented has already affected the price of gene testing in central Virginia. For patients at risk for breast cancer the price has dropped to almost half of what it was.
The test that identifies the BRCA gene cost about $4,000 at the beginning of June. But since the Supreme Court ruled that one company did not own the patent for that gene, the price has dropped to $2,500 - and it's still falling.
When Karen Bloomfield learned she had breast cancer she was devastated.
"Because I figured, I am in good shape, I won't get this ‘til I am 90, I'll be an old lady - and I was 44," said Bloomfield, a cancer survivor and current nurse.
She wanted a mastectomy because her family history included four aunts with breast cancer, but she had to go through a long process - a lumpectomy, then chemotherapy, then a mastectomy.
Bloomfield says that was before the BRCA test that identifies people who have a gene marker for breast and ovarian cancer.
Dr. David Brenin, chief of breast surgery at the University of Virginia, says the test can be critical.
"It is important to identify people who are truly at risk because there are things that we can do to decrease that risk at least to moderate that risk such as surgery or medication or observation," Brenin said.
But until recently that test was around $4,000, making it impossible for some women to afford.
The Supreme Court changed all of that. It ruled that Myriad, which ran the testing, did not own the patent for the gene. As a result, other companies have come forward.
"My understanding is that there are companies in the near future that will be offering testing for $1,000," said Brenin. "After this decision I suspect it will at least increase by 40 or 50 percent."
Bloomfield says that test now gives more women choices.
"You do have the option and I think it's good to have options," said Bloomfield.
Brenin says the Supreme Court decision denying a patent for the human gene will allow other companies to give patients second opinions on the test before they have surgery.