Will the ‘Angelina Effect’ Spread Far and Wide?

Now's the time for education about genetic testing.

angelina1Angelina Jolie made the stunning announcement last May that she had a preventative double mastectomy after genetic testing found that she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer. In the months since, studies show that the number of women having that genetic test has doubled in Britain. Researchers found that at 21 medical centers, there were 4,847 requests for the tests in June and July 2013. There were 1,981 requests for the same time period in 2012.

“The study of the so-called ‘Angelina effect’, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research, credited Jolie’s glamorous appearance and relationship with Hollywood actor Brad Pitt for helping to lessen women’s fears about surgery,” reports Thomson Reuters.

Earlier this month, a similar increase was found in Canada. With Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming, the timing of this news could generate further interest in this testing.

In the news from Canada, researchers compared the number of referrals for genetic testing for the six months before Jolie’s op-ed published and the six months after. The number of referrals doubled, going from 487 to 916. More women are also considering radical surgery.

Prior to that, there was, what HealthDay calls the “Katie Couric effect,” a marked increase in referrals for colonoscopies after she had the procedure performed live on-air.

Like so many other things, this could be a trend. But certainly, far fewer people knew about genetic testing for the BRCA1 gene prior to Jolie’s article even though, after years of pink ribbons and breast cancer walks, many people would say they’re knowledgeable about the disease. According to the CDC, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women across the all racial and ethic lines. In 2011, “220,097 women and 2,078 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer.” And that same year, 40,931 women and 443 men in this country died from the disease.

Women (and men) clearly have questions and concerns. As such, they’re also motivated. I got my October copy of Shape magazine and there’s already a story about the products for sale to benefit breast cancer charities. And while it’s always important to share information on the more traditional areas, like self-exams, mammograms and fundraising, now’s the perfect time to increase the amount of information that’s available on this new topic.

Image via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com