Angelina Jolie’s public revelation about having risky mutations in a gene related to breast cancer sent DNA screening referrals through the roof, at least in the U.K., a new study suggests.
The “Angelina effect” persisted for many months as many more women got genetic tests for the presence of a version of the BRCA1 gene that sharply raises the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, according to the study, published Thursday in the journal Breast Cancer Research.
Researchers looked at data from more than 30 genetic screening clinics and services in the U.K. and found a more than twofold increase in the number of people referred by their general practitioners during June and July last year, compared with the same period the year before. Jolie announced in May 2013 that she had recently undergone a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
The higher referral rates persisted through last October, according to the study.
Public announcements by celebrities about health issues often rouse the hypochondriacs, but researchers noted that many of the women who came in had been procrastinating about returning for a follow-up screening.
The study’s lead investigator, Dr. Gareth Evans, who studies medical genetics and epidemiology at the University of Manchester, said the phenomenon could reflect the strength of Jolie’s image as both glamorous and strong.
It is unclear if a similar rise in screening has been documented in the U.S., but the British researchers said there is no reason to suspect the phenomenon was isolated to England.
Since the introduction of screening in the late 1990s, the rate of precautionary bilateral mastectomy has risen sharply among women diagnosed with cancer in a single breast, studies have shown.