Angelina Jolie’s preventative mastectomy has had a massive impact on the numbers of women in the UK being referred for preventative treatment.
Research by our professor of clinical genetics, Gareth Evans, has shown a two-fold increase in the number of referrals for genetic counselling and testing for breast cancer risk across the UK in the year since the famous actress announced her surgery.
The paper, which has been published today in the journal Breast Cancer Research, revealed a long-lasting increase in the rate of referrals – meaning that more women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer have come forward for treatment since Jolie’s announcement.
This is wonderful news as it means that two times as many high risk women in the UK are now being monitored or undergoing preventative treatment for breast cancer, reducing their risk of developing the disease.
Angelina Jolie decided to undergo a double preventative mastectomy after testing positive for the mutated BRCA1 gene. Women who have the BRCA1 gene mutation have between a 45 per cent and 90 per cent risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. The gene mutation is linked to those with a strong family history of breast cancer – as was the case with Jolie, whose mother had passed away from the disease.
Professor Evans and his team assessed data from 12 family history clinics – including the one at The Nightingale – and nine regional genetic centres in the UK. They found that there was a two and a half-fold increase in referrals by their GPs for June and July 2013 immediately after the actress’ announcement, compared to the same two months in 2012. This rise in referrals continued from August to October with a two-fold increase over the same period the previous year. Importantly, the researchers believe that during this period of increased interest, there was no greater proportion of inappropriate referrals by GPs.
This research is particularly significant, as it shows that Angelina’s story has encouraged those who are at high risk of developing breast cancer to come forward to be tested for a mutated BRCA gene or to attend more regular screenings, rather than a knee-jerk reaction from the general population.
These are women who may have a family history of breast cancer, but until Angelina’s announcement last year, had not made the conscious decision to learn more about their situation.
While a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she carries the harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, preventative surgery is by no means the answer for everyone.
Of course, a preventative mastectomy is the most effective way to cut a woman’s risk of breast cancer, however other options should also be considered. These include prevention drugs, such as tamoxifen, which has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Alternatively, many women with a mutated BRCA gene opt for annual check-ups which can be arranged through the NHS.
Here at Prevent Breast Cancer, we’re excited to see such an increase in the number of appropriate referrals. This means that we’re able to work with those women who are most at risk to take the necessary steps to minimise the chances of the disease developing.
Read press coverage of Professor Evans’ research here: