Tuesday 20 August 2019

Rise in testing for breast cancer risk after Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy

Angelina Jolie's double masectomy encouraged more women to be tested, research has found
Angelina Jolie's double masectomy encouraged more women to be tested, research has found

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie's decision to publicise her double mastectomy following breast cancer gene testing led to a sharp rise in genetic testing, researchers have found.

Jolie announced in May 2013 that she had undergone a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer.

The mother-of-six wrote in the New York Times that doctors had estimated she had an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 50% risk of ovarian cancer due to a faulty hereditary gene.

"I decided to be proactive and to minimise the risk as much I could," she wrote.

Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic faults have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Experts from the US decided to see whether there was any increase in genetic testing rates in the weeks following the editorial.

The study, published in the Christmas issue of The British Medical Journal, said they found a steep increase in breast cancer gene testing but no change in overall mastectomy rates.

The team of researchers examined data concerning nine million insured American women aged 18 to 64.

They found a 64% increase in BRCA testing rates occurred in the 15 business days after the editorial was published.

The editorial was associated with an estimated increase of 4,500 BRCA tests, they found.

But, the researchers saw no overall increase in mastectomy rates, with an average of seven mastectomies a month for every 100,000 women during January to April as well as during May to December 2013.

Celebrity announcements can reach a broad audience but may not effectively target the population that would benefit most from the test - in this case women with a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer, the authors said.

They concluded: "Celebrity endorsements can have a large and immediate effect on use of health services.

"Such announcements can be a low cost means of reaching a broad audience quickly, but they may not effectively target the sub-populations that are most at risk for the relevant underlying condition."

PA Media

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