In her May 2013 op-ed piece for the NY Times, Angelina Jolie urged women to become informed and consider their options for taking preventative measures against cancer. The 39-year-old revealed that she had undergone a double mastectomy as a result of testing positive for the inherited (and notorious) gene mutation known as BRCA1.
"I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices," she wrote.
Over a year later, doctors in Canada are crediting the actress with what's being described the "Angelina Jolie effect," citing a 90 percent surge in patient referrals after the publication of her story.
"It's not just worried women who came in, or those who have moderate or low risk — it was really high-risk women who perhaps were concerned before about pursuing genetic counseling or genetic testing, but who somehow seemed to have felt reassured or encouraged by this story and came forward for assessment," Dr. Andrea Eisen of Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital told the Canadian Press.
In a study presented at a cancer symposium earlier this month, Eisen noted that genetic testing elevated the number of women found to carrying the mutated BRCA1 gene from 29 patients before Jolie's story to 61 patients after. She credits the actress, who has a family history of breast cancer, with delivering the right message to the right people.
"It seems to have attracted or convinced or reassured a number of high risk women that it was OK to pursue genetic counseling and testing ... These are women who have multiple relatives with breast cancer or ovarian cancer at an early age," she said.
A report earlier this year from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center confirmed that the "Angelina Jolie Effect" is a global phenomenon, with medical centers in countries all around the world using the actress's story to open a dialog with patients and present them with preventative options.
“I’ve traveled to the Philippines and China and Vietnam and it’s all over,” Mercy Laurino, a genetic counselor in the Cancer Prevention Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance said. “I saw vendors promoting cancer genetic testing at an oncology meeting in China, and they had big pictures of Angelina Jolie in their booths. Before, I would introduce the concept of genetic testing and counseling and the importance of family history but now, they’re generating it. People get it.”
Related on MNN:
- 8 famous women who went public with their private struggles
- Why hating cilantro (and other flavors) may be genetic
- What if you could get personal health care based on your genes