Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

'Angelina Jolie Effect' On Cancer Gene Testing

Women at greatest risk were the ones who sought genetic counseling, researcher said

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

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 ovarian cancer.

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, Raphael said.

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 pharmaceutical companies.

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.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW