Breast cancer tests for the BRCA gene spiked 64 percent after Angelina Jolie disclosed that she had undergone a double mastectomy because doctors discovered she had the gene mutation, a recent study published in The BMJ revealed. Jolie’s disclosure was released in a 2013 essay that was published by The New York Times. Despite the increase in gene testing, mastectomy rates did not increase, which suggested that no new BRCA mutations were found.
Signs of breast cancer include a lump in the breast, a change in breast shape, dimpling of the skin, fluid discharge from the nipple, or a red scaly patch of skin. Factors for developing breast cancer include obesity, lack of exercise, hormone replacement therapy during menopause, drinking alcohol, early first menstruation, ionizing radiation, older age, and family history. One in eight women will develop breast cancer over her lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women after skin cancer.
Jolie received genetic testing because of her maternal family history. The results of her genetic history revealed that she had a nearly 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer. This prompted the actress to undergo a preventive double mastectomy in 2013. In 2015, Jolie underwent a preventive oophorectomy or the removal of her ovary or ovaries, to prevent ovarian cancer.
Science Daily reported that the study from Harvard Medical School influenced women to get tested for the BRCA gene mutation. The study went on to say that “celebrity endorsements can fuel the use of health care services but may not effectively target the populations in greatest need of such services.” While Jolie’s essay raised breast cancer awareness and the rise of genetic testing, it also could have over-tested “low-risk groups” instead of helping at-risk groups.
Health Day reported that “consumers need to seek out the best information they can, particularly about things that affect their health.” Lead researcher, Sunita Desai, a Seidman Fellow in the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston said that their findings of celebrity endorsements are a powerful influence on “health-related behaviors.” Anupam Jena, co-author and the HMS Ruth L. Newhouse Associate Professor of Health Care Policy and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said that “careful, patient-centered analysis is the very basis of individualized care and personalized medicine.”
Jolie, in a follow-up essay, wrote and suggested that “testing and treatment decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis,” reported Science Daily. However, treatments are not one size fits all; they do not work for everyone. Therefore, patients concerned about breast cancer should consult their primary care physician to devise a testing and/or treatment plan that best suits their individual needs.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WSJ