Breast cancer advice and the Angelina Jolie effect

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on

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I was very intrigued when I read the article in BBC News about the effect that the news of Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy had last year.

The actress revealed in May last year that she had the surgery, after being told she had an 87% chance of the disease because of a high-risk gene.

Researchers looked at referrals to many centres after the story was published and noted in June and July the number of GP referrals for genetic counselling and DNA tests for breast cancer mutations increased two and a half times compared with the same period in 2012. There was also an increase in subsequent months.

Angelina Jolie is a well known and glamorous celebrity. The public announcement of her double mastectomy may have helped women who were concerned about the loss of their sexual identity as well as fears about a positive diagnosis of BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53 which puts them at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

This type of positive outcome is not unknown in these circumstances. Attendance for cervical cancer screening rose in 2008 and 2009, when the celebrity Jade Goody was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died.

Baroness Delyth Morgan is chief executive at Breast Cancer Campaign, which part-funded the research.

"Without Angelina Jolie's openness in talking about her BRCA1 mutation and decision to have a risk-reducing mastectomy, followed by the publication and publicity around the updated NICE guidelines soon after, many women may not have approached health services and so would never have had their risk and risk-reducing options explained,"

Funding for genetic services must be able to respond quickly to demand, to ensure risk counselling and genetic testing is available for everyone in need."

It is worrying that it may take such an announcement by a celebrity to make some women take that step to seek advice. I have nothing but praise for Angelina Jolie for making such news public and helping many women to approach clinicians for genetic counselling and/or treatment.


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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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