‘Angelina Jolie effect’ sees increase in double mastectomy rates among high-risk women at UK centre

In collaboration with the Press Association

Experts at a UK breast cancer prevention centre have reported an increase in preventative double mastectomies since Angelina Jolie announced that she had undergone the procedure in 2013.

"We now need more research into better ways of preventing breast cancer in high-risk women so that they could potentially avoid surgery” - Professor Arnie Purushotham, Cancer Research UK

The so-called ‘Angelina effect’ was reported by the Genesis Prevention Centre Family History clinic in Manchester in a letter published in Breast Cancer Research. The number of preventative double mastectomies performed after consultation more than doubled in the 18-month period covering January 2014 to June 2015.

High-profile Hollywood actress and filmmaker Jolie revealed in May 2013 that she had chosen to have the preventative surgery after learning of her increased risk of the disease.

Some 83 procedures were performed during the 2014-2015 period, compared to 29 between January 2011 and June 2012. Information on the patients’ motivation for undergoing surgery was not collected. But the researchers speculate Jolie’s public announcement played an influential role. 

Jolie underwent surgery after losing her mother to breast cancer and subsequently discovering that she carried a fault in the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. 

“This report suggests that Angelina Jolie’s decision to talk publicly has had a lasting impact on the number of women at higher risk of breast cancer who seek help,” said Professor Arnie Purushotham, breast cancer surgeon and Cancer Research UK’s senior clinical adviser.

“The ‘Angelina Jolie effect’ seems to have raised awareness of breast cancer risk, increased the number of women seeking advice and genetic testing, and so has resulted in more women having preventative surgery. This will undoubtedly save many lives.” 

A total of 17 women with BRCA1/2 gene faults had preventative double mastectomies at the clinic in the 18-month period covering January 2011 to June 2012. This rose to 31 in the 18 months from January 2014 onward. 

At the same time, the number of procedures performed in women without the gene faults, but who were deemed ‘high-risk’ for other reasons, rose from 12 to 52.

“The good news is that those women who had mastectomies were those most likely to benefit. We now need more research into better ways of preventing breast cancer in high-risk women so that they could potentially avoid surgery,” added Purushotham.

There was also an increase in new referrals. A total of 388 referrals were recorded from January to June 2014, up from 201 in the same period in 2012. 

Professor Gareth Evans, from Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, said it would be interesting to see results from other centres in the UK and worldwide to determine whether the same effect has been observed elsewhere.

References

  • Evans, D., et al. (2015). Longer term effects of the Angelina Jolie effect: increased risk-reducing mastectomy rates in BRCA carriers and other high-risk women Breast Cancer Research, 17 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13058-015-0650-8