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"Angelina Jolie Effect" Leaves Public with Inaccurate Knowledge of Breast Cancer Risk

A survey of 2500 Americans finds that despite many knowing about Jolie's preventive double mastectomy, most remain in the dark about breast cancer risk. Christie Nicholson reports

Last spring, Angelina Jolie revealed that she’d had a preventive double mastectomy. The announcement was intended to increase awareness. But a study finds that the public’s understanding of breast cancer remains shallow and often inaccurate.

Researchers surveyed more than 2,500 men and women and found that a whopping three out of four knew Jolie’s story. But less than 10 percent could correctly answer questions about the BRCA gene mutation that Jolie carries. The survey is in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

Women with mutations in either BRCA1 and BRCA2 do have a five-fold increased risk of breast cancer compared with other women. But many did not know that these mutations are rare: far less than one percent of women have them.

Most people also still don’t know that the BRCA mutations are only linked to five to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. And that in terms of absolute numbers, many more women with no family history of the disease get diagnosed with breast cancer than do those with a history of breast cancer in the family.

So kudos to Jolie for sharing her story. But doctors, media and patients all still need to do a better job with the whole breast cancer story.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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