The 'Angelina Jolie effect' caused surge in women testing for breast
13 February 2015
Testing for the BRCA 1 gene mutation soared by nearly 40% in the
week that Angelina Jolie announced that she had had an elective
double mastectomy because she carried the gene, according to a new
AARP Public Policy Institute study.
On May 14, 2013, Angelina Jolie announced in The New York Times
that she had tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation and had
chosen to have a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of
developing breast cancer. Ms. Jolie's story gained immediate and
widespread international media attention.
Angelina Jolie (PRNewsFoto/AARP Copyright: 2008 FilmMagic)
Prior to Ms Jolie's announcement, women with a cancer diagnosis
had more BRCA tests than women who did not, the AARP study found.
However, during the week of her public announcement, the increase in
BRCA testing among women who did not have a cancer diagnosis was
nearly twice that of women with a cancer diagnosis. BRCA testing
helps identify treatment options for women with the gene mutations
before or after they are diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian
cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"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.
About 5–10% of breast cancers are thought to be caused by
hereditary genetic defects, according to the American Cancer
Society. BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are the most common cause of
hereditary breast cancer. Women with either mutation have a high
lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
"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,"
added Whitman. "We found that Baby Boomer women ages 50- to
64-years-old had the highest increase in testing rates for the BRCA
To better understand the so-called 'Angelina Jolie effect', AARP,
in collaboration with Optum Labs, compared BRCA testing rates based
on claims among commercially-insured women ages 35 and older in the
US, before and after Ms Jolie's story was publicized in 2013.
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.
- BRCA testing rates increased nearly 40% per week, from an
average of 350 tests per week to an average of 500 tests per
week and remained elevated for the rest of the year.
- Women aged 50–64 had the highest BRCA testing rate increase
(44%), followed by women ages 35–49 (40%).
- BRCA testing rates increased for women among all racial and
ethnic groups: 43% among white women; 43% among Hispanic women;
23% among black women; and 16% among Asian women.
The report: Star Power: Angelina Jolie's Personal Story of BRCA1
Mutation on Testing Rates Among Commercially-Insured Women, is