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Angelina Jolie did not Increase Awareness on Breast Cancer Risks

Update Date: Dec 19, 2013 10:42 AM EST
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Hollywood actress and humanitarian, Angelina Jolie shocked the world when she announced that she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in order to reduce her risk of breast cancer. Jolie carries the BRCA1 gene, which has been tied to a 65 percent increased risk of breast cancer. For Jolie, in particular, her doctors stated that her risk was 87 percent. Instead of keeping everything private, Jolie shared her story to the world. However, in a new study, researchers found that Jolie's story did not help increase people's knowledge on the genetic risk of breast cancer.

"Ms. Jolie's health story was prominently featured throughout the media and was a chance to mobilize health communicators and educators to teach about the nuanced issues around genetic testing, risk and [preventive] surgery," study lead author Dina Borzekowski, a research professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health's department of behavior and community health, said reported by HealthDay."[But it] feels like it was a missed opportunity to educate the public about a complex but rare health situation."

In this study, the researchers interviewed 2,500 Americans with about three-quarters of them stating that they knew about Jolie's story. Despite being aware of Jolie's breast cancer prevention journey, less than 10 percent of the participants answered the questions regarding the BRCA gene mutation correctly. The researchers also found that roughly 50 percent of the people believed that people's risk of developing breast cancer was extremely low if the cancer did not run in the family.

"Since many more women without a family history develop breast cancer each year than those with, it is important that women don't feel falsely reassured by a negative family history," study co-author Dr. Debra Roter, director of the Center for Genomic Literacy and Communication at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in the University's news release.

Aside from testing people's knowledge of the genetic risk of breast cancer, the researchers also asked the participants if they would have gone down the same route as Jolie. Roughly 57 percent of the women who knew about Jolie's surgery stated that they would have opted for similar surgery as well. Around 75 percent of the participants stated that Jolie did the right thing by sharing her story.

The study was published in Genetics in Medicine.

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