Jolie effect spiked breast cancer testing: study

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New York: Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie's admission that she had the BRCA gene - linked to high risk of breast cancer - may have encouraged women to get tested, according to a study which found that there was an 80-fold increase in genetic testing between 2003 to 2014.

Researchers from University of Georgia in the US also noted that there was a big spike in 2013, the year in which Jolie revealed she carries a mutation. A breast cancer (BRCA) gene test is a blood test to check for mutations in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. This test predict the risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

"BRCA testing and counselling provide important information on the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers among women with family history of the cancers," said Zhuo Adam Chen, an associate professor at University of Georgia. "Appropriate use of BRCA testing would lead to reduction in avoidable cancer mortalities and morbidities," Chen said.

Women with hereditary BRCA gene mutations have a 45 to 65 per cent risk of developing breast cancer before age 70, compared to seven per cent in the general population, according to the US National Cancer Institute.

The study, published in the journal Genetics in Medicine analysed testing rates, payment to the provider, and out-of- pocket costs for patients from 2003 to 2014, and compared findings to reported revenue from Myriad Genetics, the only provider of the test until 2013. Researchers noted that overall, BRCA testing increased 80-fold during those 11 years, with a large spike in testing occurring in 2013.

That same year Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie published an op-ed in The New York Times promoting BRCA gene testing and the Supreme Court struck down the patent on BRCA gene testing, researchers said. "This could provide insights on the impact of the policy changes and the media coverage of celebrity endorsement," said Chen.

Though it may be tempting to connect the whirlwind of media coverage surrounding Jolies decision to have a double mastectomy following a positive BRCA test, the available data cannot point to which event had a greater impact, researchers said. "Jolies op-ed, the Supreme Court decision on BRCA gene and the USPSTF recommendation occurred in a very compact timeline," Chen said. "In a companion study, we did examine whether women had follow-up surgical procedures and found an urban and rural disparity in the follow-up rates," said Chen.

"Women residing in urban areas consistently had a higher rates of follow-up surgical procedures than those in rural areas, though the gap is narrowing," Chen added As genetic testing becomes more accessible, potential for individuals to make more informed decisions about their health, researchers said.

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