Angelina Jolie Sparks Rise in Genetic Testing for Treat Breast Cancer

Angelina Jolie has highlighted the benefits of genetic testing and surgery to prevent hereditary breast cancer, but women must also consider the risks.
For years, Caitlin Brodnick ignored her father’s pleas that she undergo testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations that are associated with a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Brodnick was all too aware of the cancer history on her father’s side of the family — the aunt who died of breast cancer at age 32, the grandmother who lost her life to the same disease, not to mention another aunt who died of pancreatic cancer — but she was too terrified to learn about her own risk.

Finally, at age 26, Brodnick gave in and made an appointment with a genetic counselor. Turned out her fears were warranted: She tested positive for mutated BRCA1.

Photo by Susan Farley

Like Angelina Jolie, CAITLIN BRODNICK underwent prophylactic surgery after learning that she carried a BRCA mutation. [Photo by Susan Farley]

“When I got the results, it felt like I already had breast cancer,” Brodnick says. “I froze. I panicked. I was researching the wrong information. Then I realized this was not the way I should live my life. I wanted to enjoy my 30s.” After discussing her options with her genetic counselor, Brodnick opted to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in late 2013, when she was 28.

A budding comedian who lives in New York City, Brodnick says much of her inspiration to take such a radical move came from Angelina Jolie, the actress who had an elective double mastectomy in early 2013 after learning she tested positive for mutated BRCA1. “That was really helpful, because I figured if the sexiest woman in the world was OK with losing this very sexual body part, I could be brave and strong, too. It gave me more confidence,” Brodnick says. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Genetic testing is on the rise among women who believe they are at high risk for breast cancer — a trend that has been dubbed the “Angelina Jolie effect” because it occurred after the actress’s public disclosure of her BRCA status and her decision to remove her breasts, which was followed two years later by the elective removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. A retrospective study performed at a Toronto hospital in 2014, for example, reported that the number of women referred for genetic counseling skyrocketed by 90 percent in the six months after Jolie’s announcement. The number of women at the hospital identified as BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers during that period jumped by 110 percent.

Photo by © Armando Gallo/Corbis

Photo by © Armando Gallo/Corbis

Choosing Surgery

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