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Canadian cancer centre reports 'Angelina effect'

8 September 2014
Appeared in BioNews 770

Angelina Jolie's decision to openly discuss her preventative double mastectomy after testing positive for a dangerous BRCA1 mutation may have led to a dramatic upswing in referrals to genetic counselling services, if results from a Canadian study are widely applicable.

In the six months after Jolie went public with her decision, clinicians at Sunnybrook's Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto observed a 90 percent increase in the number of women seeking cancer genetic counselling compared to the six months before the story broke.

The researchers found that women referred before or after the news were equally likely to be at high genetic risk. So, as well as the total number of referrals increasing, the number of patients identified as having a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 more than doubled (from 213 to 437 people). The authors say that this suggests that the 'Angelina effect' has led to more women who are at high risk coming forward for screening.

'It's not just worried women who came in, or those who have moderate or low risk - it was really high risk women who perhaps were concerned before about pursuing genetic counselling or genetic testing, but who somehow seemed to have felt reassured or encouraged by this story and came forward for assessment', study co-author Dr Andrea Eisen, head of the familial cancer programme at Sunnybrook, told The Canadian Press news agency.

The researchers plan to continue monitoring referrals to genetic counselling to see if the increased demand is maintained.

The study did not in fact investigate whether the women had heard about Jolie's situation but assumed that that story led to increased awareness of genetic breast cancer risk.

Jolie wrote in The New York Times that her doctors estimated that she had a 50 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer and an 87 percent risk of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. After having a preventative double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, Jolie said that her risk of breast cancer was reduced to around five percent.

'Sometimes where there's a popular figure in the press, there's a lot of interest', Dr Eisen told The Canadian Press, 'But it's not always reaching the right women. In this case, it actually was the right message'.

The study was presented at an American Society of Clinical Oncology breast cancer symposium and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

19 December 2016 - by Anastassia Bolotkova 
Angelina Jolie's 2013 public announcement that she has the BRCA1</i> breast cancer gene led to a 64 percent increase in women seeking genetic testing for breast cancer...
22 September 2014 - by Jessica Ware 
The number of women in the UK being referred to breast cancer clinics doubled shortly after actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had a risk-reducing double mastectomy, a study has found....
15 September 2014 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
A leading scientist involved in the identification of the BRCA1 gene mutation has recommended that genetic screening of the BRCA genes should be routinely offered to all women aged 30 years or over....
28 April 2014 - by James Brooks 
Did Angelina Jolie's famous editorial in the New York Times a year ago inspire an overemphasis on genetic risk in breast cancer? Or has it saved lives by bringing the issue out into the open?...
31 March 2014 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
BRCA1 mutations put carriers at high risk of cancer by failing to protect cells against the effects of high levels of oestrogen hormone found in breast and ovary tissue, researchers have established...
31 March 2014 - by Dr Caroline Dalton 
As we learn more, and as technologies develop, there are continuing challenges for the NHS to meet in providing the best possible care for people at risk of familial breast cancer...
2 December 2013 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
Women from families with a history of carrying the cancer risk gene BRCA2, but who test negative for it, may be at higher risk of breast cancer than previously thought...
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