Angelina Jolie Effect Has Women Seeking Risky Cancer Testing

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Friday, 27 Dec 2013 01:30 PM

By Michael Mullins

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The Angelina Jolie effect has led numerous women to seek genetic testing to determine whether or not they are predisposed to getting cancer, but the testing may not be in everyone's best interest.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) warned against unnecessary BRCA testing, which it said could potentially harm rather than help the patient, ABC News reported.

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"The USPSTF recommends against routine genetic counseling or BRCA testing for women whose family history is not associated with an increased risk for mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes," the organization said in a press release Tuesday.

The determination came after the USPSTF's panel of doctors, which is appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reviewed dozens of studies involving such preemptive measures.

"Evidence still shows that there are serious, negative consequences that could result from testing women who are at low risk for BRCA mutations," Task Force chair Dr. Virginia Moyer said in the news release. "The BRCA test works best for women who have reviewed their family history of breast or ovarian cancer and the pros and cons of the screening test with a trained professional.

"We hope further research will improve the ways genomic science can help women and their doctors understand their risk for cancer," Moyer added.

Among the risks associated with unnecessary BRCA testing are "inconclusive [results that] leads many women to choose to take powerful medications or undergo major surgery to reduce their risk for developing cancer," the USPSTF warned.

Earlier in the year, 38-year-old Academy Award-winning actress Jolie revealed that she had a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer after she learned that she possesses a genetic variant that puts her at high risk for ovarian and breast cancer.

Jolie's decision to be tested for the BRCA1 cancer-causing gene stemmed from the fact that her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56.



In a May 14 article penned by Jolie in The New York Times, the actress wrote that once she realized she had the "'faulty' gene ... I knew this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy."

According to Jolie, doctors told her that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Jolie said that she would subsequently have her ovaries removed after the mastectomy.

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After hearing about Jolie's double mastectomy, a growing number of U.S. women now say they may ask their doctors whether the same preventive measure is right for them, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.

Of the nearly 1,100 U.S. women surveyed in mid-July, the poll found that almost all women (86 percent) had heard of Jolie's double mastectomy with 5 percent saying they'd seek medical advice on having a preventive mastectomy or ovary removal because of Jolie's decision.

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