It's been nearly two years since Angelina Jolie revealed her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, and her statement appears to have had a profound effect on women. According to an AARP report, there has been a huge spike—to the tune of 40 percent—in BRCA testing rates since the actress spoke out.
BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
The study looked at data from a large insurance provider, cross referenced with data from a health care research group. They found that between the four months before and four months after Jolie’s piece was published, BRCA testing rates in this country surged from about 350 tests per week to about 500 tests per week and maintained the higher rate throughout the year. Baby boomers (50-64) were the most proactive group, followed by women ages 35-49, and the rates increased for all racial and ethnic groups in America.
AARP has dubbed the spike the "Jolie Effect." In her 2013 New York Times column, Jolie explained that she shared her story to encourage women to explore their options and be proactive. And people clearly listened. AARP Executive Vice President for Policy Debra Whitman said, “By revealing her personal story, Angelina Jolie did an incredible job of raising public awareness about the BRCA gene mutations and the increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.” The new report echoes previous research that reflected a similar increase in screenings.
FYI, the BRCA mutation test is expensive, but many insurance plans cover it. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and / or have a family member with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, you may want to consider getting tested. Just call up your insurer and see what’s up. And if you don’t have insurance, there are companies that offer the test for no charge for those who meet certain financial and medical criteria.