When Angelina Jolie revealed last year that she had a preventative double mastectomy, the phrases “BRCA1 gene” and “genetic testing” were suddenly on everyone’s mind. Time Magazine dubbed the subsequent increase in awareness the “Angelina Effect.”
Now, over a year later, researchers are revealing just how her public announcement has changed the way women take charge of their health. In fact, researchers attribute a surge in the number of women being referred for genetic testing to this “Angelina Effect,” according to a yet-to-be-published study presented at the 2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology Breast Cancer Symposium.
Study authors focused on records from one Canadian hospital. In the six months prior to Angelina’s revelation that she carried the BRCA1 mutation (which leads to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer), 487 women were referred for genetic testing. In the six months after her announcement, 916 women were referred.
It may be that both women and doctors who heard Jolie’s story contributed to this 90 percent increase, note the researchers. According to this study, the number of women who qualified for genetic testing doubled, as did the number of women found to be BRCA1 mutation carriers, plus those who had another breast- and ovarian-cancer linked gene, BRCA2.
“While this is a small study, it shows the profound impact that prominent figures like Jolie can have on public awareness of health issues,” said lead study author Jacques Raphael, M.D., clinical fellow at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada, in a statement.
Public awareness about life-altering health issues is always good, and the fact that Jolie’s announcement led to more women finding out that they carried a BRCA gene is definitely positive. On the other hand, awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to a better understanding of breast cancer risk factors. Another recent study published in Genetics in Medicine found that although three out of four Americans knew of Jolie’s double mastectomy, fewer than 10 percent knew how her increased risk compared to women who did not have this genetic mutation.
That said, we’re very glad to see that this recent study saw a tangible increase in health efforts as a result of Angelina’s announcement. We’re always supportive of celebrities who share their stories in a sincere effort to spread awareness. Just remember that awareness is only half the battle—processing that information and bringing it up to your doctor if it applies to you is the next crucial step.
Image courtesy of womenshealthmag.com