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‘Angelina Jolie effect’ sees breast cancer gene tests soar

A study has found that since the actress Angelina Jolie announced that she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, the number of UK women also being tested for the gene has more than doubled.

Jolie’s announcement in May last year left much of the world in shock, and inspired millions when she opted for a double mastectomy. The BRCA1 gene can raise the risk of breast cancer developing within an individual by up to 90 per cent, and can raise a person’s chances of developing ovarian cancer by fifty per cent.

The study, carried out by Gareth Evans and Julian Barwell from the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention organisation found that since the announcement from the actress, the number of referrals from GPs to genetic services who test for the gene more than doubled throughout June and July of 2013 and have continued to remain high for the months following.

Despite criticism, experts from the Genesis Genetics Service have said that the rise in cases is far from a case of hysteria regarding the gene. The women who were testing had a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer that needed to be tested.

Gareth Evans, the professor of clinical genetics at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention stated: “Although there was concern that the increase in attendance following Ms Jolie’s announcement might well have been from the ‘worried well’ coming back for an early repeat screen, our research found that the opposite was true. Angelina Jolie stating that she has a BRCA1 mutation and going on to have a risk-reducing mastectomy is likely to have had a bigger impact than other celebrity announcements, possibly due to her image as a glamourous and strong woman. This may have lessened patients’ fears about a loss of sexual identity post-preventive surgery and encouraged those who had not previously engaged with health services to consider genetic testing.”

The chairman of the charity, Lester Barr said: “This research is particularly significant, as it shows that Angelina’s story has encouraged those who are at high risk of developing breast cancer to come forward to be tested for a mutated BRCA gene or to attend more regular screenings, rather than a knee-jerk reaction from the general population. Here at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, we’re excited to see such an increase in the number of appropriate referrals. This means that we’re able to work with those women who are most at risk to take the necessary steps to minimise the chances of the disease developing.”

Similar effects have been seen in other English-speaking countries where stars like Angelina Jolie are prominent and celebrity figures. Other parallels include the rises in screening following Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, and Jade Goody’s cervical cancer diagnosis later in 2008.

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