Angelina Jolie was behind spike in breast cancer testing

Angelina had preventive surgery to remove both her breasts

It was dubbed ‘the Angelina Jolie effect’ by the media.

When the actress revealed that she carries a genetic mutation that increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer, it was suspected – and hoped by many – that she had raised awareness of the issue among women.

Now research has confirmed that a sharp rise in 2013 in females seeking BRCA genetic testing was driven by the Hollywood star, who had preventive surgery to remove both her breasts.

That was the year Angelina published a piece in The New York Times revealing her decision and promoted BRCA gene testing.

Her revelation and the surrounding publicity then, arguably, prompted the Supreme Court in the US to declare that human DNA tests – including those for cancerous mutations – cannot be patented. 

This move was said to have lowered the cost of cancer testing and made it more accessible. 

It is estimated at least 1.5 million US women have a high risk of carrying genetic mutations (stock photo)

It is estimated at least 1.5 million US women have a high risk of carrying genetic mutations (stock photo)

Angelina’s mother died of ovarian cancer as did her maternal grandmother. She had her healthy breasts removed to try to avoid the same fate after discovering she had the defective BRCA1 gene. 

There are nearly 4 million women in the US who have had either breast cancer or ovarian cancer. 

At least 1.5 million of these have a high risk of carrying genetic mutations that could increase their chances of having additional cancers in the future.

Key findings  

The University of Georgia found that between 2003 to 2014, there was a huge 80-fold increase in BRCA testing, with a large jump in testing occurring in Gone in 60 Seconds star’s revelation year in 2013.

It led them to conclude that multiple factors influenced this, including celebrity endorsement, primarily Angelina.

‘This could provide insights on the impact of the policy changes and the media coverage of celebrity endorsement,’ said lead study author Dr Zhuo Chen.

‘Jolie’s op-ed [opinion editorial], the Supreme Court decision on BRCA gene and the USPSTF recommendation occurred in a very compact timeline.’ 

Their study analyzed testing rates, payment to the provider, and out-of-pocket costs for patients, and compared findings to reported revenue from Myriad Genetics, the only provider of the test until 2013.


The latest study reveals a huge 80-fold increase across 11 years from 2003 in woman coming forward for genetic testing to assess their chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer.

However, a study in August suggested Angelina’s call for action has fallen on deaf ears with those most at risk.

It found more than 80% of women with a history of breast cancer and ovarian cancer have not taken the test or even discussed it with a health care provider.

Experts from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fielding School of Public Health say their findings suggest 1.2million-1.3 million of the 1.5 million at-risk have not considered testing.

They point out this is despite the fact it involves a simple saliva or blood sample.

‘Many of these women have inherited genetic changes that put them and their family members at risk for future cancers,’ said Dr Christopher Childers, the study’s lead author.

‘If individuals are aware that they have these mutations, they can take steps to lower their future cancer risk.’

Testing can save lives 

Women with hereditary BRCA gene mutations have a 45 to 65 percent risk of developing breast cancer before age 70, compared to 7 percent in the general population, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Dr Chen said increased awareness of genetic testing can save lives.

‘BRCA testing and counseling provide important information on the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers among women with family history of the cancers,’ said lead study author Zhuo ‘Adam’ Chen.

‘Appropriate use of BRCA testing would lead to reduction in avoidable cancer mortalities and morbidities.’  

The team also found a big difference in whether women had follow-up surgical procedures after testing among the urban and rural residents. 

‘Women residing in urban areas consistently had a higher rates of follow-up surgical procedures than those in rural areas, though the gap is narrowing,’ he said.

As genetic testing becomes more accessible, Chen sees potential for individuals to make more informed decisions about their health.

‘We live in a fortunate time where technology advances have greatly improved the quality of human life,’ he said.