'Angelina Effect' on breast cancer genetic screening
In the first study in a Canadian setting, Sunnybrook researchers report a 90% increase for women referred for breast cancer genetic counselling following actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, but note similar proportions of women referred before or after the news were at very high genetic risk. The study was presented at the 2014 ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Breast Cancer Symposium.
BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, known as tumor suppressor genes that make proteins to repair DNA, and suppress the growth of cancer. A mutation of the BRCA gene means that DNA damage cannot be repaired as well, which increases the risk for cancer.
"At our own cancer centre, we were encouraged by Ms. Jolie's courageous story which seemed to have a significant and meaningful influence on health care providers and the public about awareness for breast cancer genetic screening and preventive options,” says Dr. Jacques Raphael, breast oncology research fellow and lead author, who conducted the study under the supervision of Dr. Andrea Eisen, medical oncologist and head, Preventive Oncology of the Breast Cancer Care team at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Raphael reviewed the number of women referred for genetic counselling at the Odette Cancer Centre's Familial Cancer Program, and compared rates six months before and after the release of Angelina Jolie’s story in May 2013.
"Among the larger number of women we saw for genetic counselling after the news, the proportion of women determined to be high risk, like Ms. Jolie, was about the same as the proportion seen before the news, suggesting that we continue to see many of the women who need screening most," says Dr. Andrea Eisen.