Cancer prevention: Jolie’s choice creates patient demand for tests

On the day that Angelina Jolie’s op-ed discussing her hereditary risk for breast cancer and decision to opt for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy ran in The New York Times, genetic counselor Lisa Madlensky, PhD, checked in with her scheduler to see if the news had prompted patient inquiries.

“She actually didn’t have time to speak to me because she had all these calls backed up on the line,” said Madlensky, director of the Family Cancer Genetics Program at the University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “Finally, she put someone on hold. She hadn’t seen the news yet and she said, ‘What’s going on?’ ”

In the wake of the actress’s announcement, genetic counselors and breast and cancer centers are reporting similar increases in calls and visits from patients who want to learn more about being tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. The Jolie case shows the power that celebrities wield in driving medical care patterns by raising public awareness and tapping into the emotional connection that patients often form with the women and men who grace the covers of supermarket tabloids.

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