“Angelina effect” led to more appropriate breast cancer referrals, research shows

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 19 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5755
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

When the US actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had tested positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1 and had undergone a double mastectomy, referrals for genetic counselling and testing in the United Kingdom more than doubled, remaining higher than usual for at least six months.

And these were not simply “worried well” women, a team from various cancer centres around the UK has concluded.1 The authors found no evidence of inappropriate referrals—although they did not collect evidence from GPs, who may have seen women unduly concerned about breast cancer in the months after Jolie’s announcement.

The team gathered evidence from 21 centres around the UK and found that, in June 2013—the first complete month after Jolie’s announcement—referrals rose to more than 2000, up from fewer than 1000 in the same month the year before. Similar increases were seen in July, August, and September 2013, but they then began to tail off; in November and December they were only a third higher than in the same period the year before.

Jolie is likely to have had a greater effect than other celebrities, the team speculated, because of her strong and glamorous image and her relationship with Brad Pitt, which may have mitigated women’s fears of a loss of sexual identity if they found that they faced a similar risk and opted for a mastectomy.

Gareth Evans of Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention and St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, who led the team, said, “These high profile cases often mean that more women are inclined to contact centres such as Genesis—and other family history clinics—so that they can be tested for the mutation early and take the necessary steps to prevent themselves from developing the disease.”

Similar surges in attendance have been seen in the past, notably after the death from cervical cancer of Jade Goody, the UK reality television celebrity, and after a campaign for colon cancer screening in the United States led by the television presenter Katie Couric. But the “Angelina effect” seems to have been longer lasting and global—and to have increased appropriate referrals.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5755


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