Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy last year has inspired more women to take their health into their own hands and receive genetic counseling, a Canadian study suggests.
The study, conducted at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre, measured the number of genetic counseling referrals at the Toronto-based facility six months before Jolie wrote about her procedure in a May 2013 New York Times op-ed and six months after. Results showed that referrals doubled after Jolie’s announcement, especially among women with a family history of breast cancer.
Dr. Jacques Raphael — the author of the study who dubbed the increase of genetic testing “The Angelina Jolie Effect” — presented the findings before thousands of people at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco on Friday, according to MedicineNet.com.
Jolie — who has starred in dozens of movies, including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Gone in 60 Seconds — underwent a double mastectomy after testing positive for BRCA1, a genetic mutation that poses a high risk of breast cancer in whoever carries it.
The actress counts among a host of public figures who have used their personal bouts with the disease as a tool in raising awareness among Americans. In 2012, Sharon Osbourne announced her double mastectomy shortly after discovering she carried a gene for breast cancer. ABC Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts also divulged details of her eight chemotherapy treatments after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2007. More than four decades earlier, an untold number of American women received mammograms after first lady Betty Ford revealed that she received a mastectomy upon her discovery of a malignant tumor.
Since the late-1990s, the rates at which women receive mastectomies increased by double digit percentages. Women who discover tumors during genetic counseling or who have a family history of breast cancer surgically remove one or both breasts as a preventative measure against the disease. Forms of the procedure vary and a patient’s choice often depends on the spread of the tumor and how much of the breast tissue she wants to preserve.
Even with a 95-percent reduction rate among women who receive mastectomies, the risk of breast cancer still exists, due in part to the probable presence of cancerous breast tissue in armpits, the abdomen, and above the collarbone. Recent studies — including one that followed nearly 190,000 women in California — have also found that removal of both breasts didn’t extend patients’ lives any more than the removing cancerous lumps, followed by radiotherapy. Many experts warn against taking what they consider a drastic measure to prevent the spread of a tumor.
“A mastectomy is a major procedure that can require significant recovery time and may entail breast reconstruction, whereas a lumpectomy is much less invasive, with a shorter recovery period,” Stanford University’s Dr. Allison Kurian told the Guardian after the release of the study.
Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention designates breast cancer as the most common form of cancer among women. Warning signs of breast cancer include a new lump in the breast or armpit, redness of flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast, and changes in the shape and size of the breast. Doctors recommend that women between the ages of 50 and 74 to have a screening mammogram every two years to detect tumors early.