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In a recent study by AARP’s Public Policy Institute, shows that testing for the gene mutation BRCA 1, responsible for early onset breast cancer, has risen almost 40% during the week in 2013 that actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had tested positive for the type 1 susceptibility protein gene and had undergone an elective double mastectomy as a preventative measure to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.
Two years after her announcement, a study into the public response of the news shows a significant impact on cancer screenings. Based on AARP insurance data and other sources, the number of breast cancer screenings jumped exponentially from the low dozens prior to the announcement, to thousands seemingly overnight.
“Our study showed that the BRCA testing rate increased about 40% and stayed at an elevated level for the rest of the year after Angelina Jolie’s announcement,” said AARP Executive Vice President for Policy Debra Whitman, PhD.
The National Cancer Institute has stated that the gene mutation can be associated with between 20% and 25% of hereditary breast cancers and 15% of ovarian cancers. Despite these figures, a significant number of women sought testing after the Jolie announcement, even though, like Jolie herself, they had not been diagnosed with any form of cancer.
Jolie can be credited for raising public awareness of the gene mutation. However, the study highlights an oversight in public knowledge between the links to breast cancer. Those questioned for the study feared the risk associated with the gene, but were ultimately unclear on the level of concern they should have regarding the risk. This information gap could trigger unnecessary testing, or worse, unnecessary surgery, if patients are unable to associate the gene condition risk.
About the study
AARP’s Public Policy Institute examined the number and rates of BRCA tests among women covered by a large, national US health insurance carrier before and after Angelina Jolie’s May 2013 announcement (January–December 2013). Using data from the Optum Labs database of retrospective administrative claims data, the report also analyzed the age, race/ethnicity, and cancer diagnosis status of women aged 35 and older who received the tests.
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