'Angelina Jolie Effect' Prompted More Testing for Breast Cancer Genes: Study 09/03/14
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- In the months after
actress and activist Angelina Jolie revealed last year that she had
undergone a preventive double mastectomy because of an increased
risk for breast cancer, the number of women referred for genetic
counseling went up dramatically, a new Canadian study shows.
"When we compared six months before the [Jolie] story to six months after, we found the number of referrals doubled," said study author Dr. Jacques Raphael, a medical oncology fellow at Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto. He is scheduled to present his findings Friday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco.
Raphael and his colleagues evaluated the number of genetic
counseling referrals at their center six months before and six
months after Jolie made the announcement in May 2013. Jolie had
tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation, which greatly increases the
risk of breast cancer. She also had a family history of breast and
While 487 women were referred for testing in the six months
before the Jolie announcement, 916 were referred in the six months
after it, the investigators found.
Even more important, Raphael said, was that the quality of
referrals remained high -- that is, the women who had reason to be
tested were the ones seeking it and being referred. The increase
was not just due to women concerned about the risk without a family
history or other risk factors.
"This is an example of a positive celebrity effect," he said.
The Canadian finding echoes those of studies done at other
centers, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom,
Of the 916 referred after the Jolie news, 437 qualified for
genetic testing. That was roughly the same ratio as before, with
213 of the 487 referred qualifying before the news broke.
Raphael can't say if the effect will be long lasting. He is
continuing to evaluate the referrals.
The findings make sense, said Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy
chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
"It's what we call the 'Katie Couric effect,' " he said, referring to the rise in colonoscopies after the television news personality had an on-camera colonoscopy in 2000 to raise awareness after her husband died of the disease.
What is also important, he said, is that the women at higher
risk get to the genetic counselors. "Genetic counseling is a
limited resource," he said. Some small towns, for instance, may not
have such counselors.
The Raphael study was funded by Sanofi-Aventis. A co-author, Dr.
Sunil Verma, reports consulting or advisory work with several
In another study presented at the meeting, researchers reported
that more than half of 150 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer
considered having a preventive mastectomy on the healthy breast
immediately after the diagnosis.
The surgery is known as a contralateral preventive mastectomy
(CPM). "Many newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are undergoing
CPM, but we find many more -- over half -- are actually considering
CPM [at some point] in their decision-making process," said study
author Dr. Katharine Yao, director of the breast surgical program
at NorthShore University Health System, in Evanston, Ill.
She is also due to present her findings at the ASCO meeting.
In the end, just 12 of the women chose the CPM.
Those who consider having it, she said, have more anxiety than
the other women.
Yao said her study points to the need to do a better job of
educating women that the risk of developing cancer in the opposite
breast is actually low.
Studies presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary
until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
American Cancer Societyfor more on genetic
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