Leave it to do-gooder Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity to save lives. After the star went public with her preventive double mastectomy, the number of British women tested for her breast-cancer gene more than doubled, according to a new study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research.
Jolie had tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation, which is linked to a very high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. More than 500,000 women die of breast cancer every year, and it's one of the top five causes of cancer deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Researchers studied 21 genetic testing clinics in the U.K. and measured the number of referrals for breast-cancer tests in 2012 and then in 2013, when Jolie revealed her results. In June and July 2012, there were 1,981 referrals for the test, and that number spiked to 4,847 referrals in the same time period in 2013. The numbers stayed high for the rest of the year, while numbers for other types of genetic tests didn't rise at all.
Jolie may have had such an impact because she's seen as glamorous and attractive, researchers say. "This may have lessened patients' fears about a loss of sexual identity post preventative surgery," the study notes. Celebrities often inspire women to get cancer screenings, the study's authors add, citing Katie Couric's on-air colonoscopy and Kylie Minogue's breast-cancer diagnosis as prime examples. But researchers warn the celebrity effect only goes so far, and urge health services worldwide to provide more thorough information about cancer and genetics to the public.
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