In 2013, when Angelina Jolie wrote a short piece in the New York Times about her decision to have her healthy breasts surgically removed to reduce her risk of cancer, she didn’t just remind us to screen for lumps, she explained how we can be even more proactive than that. Not only did her going public increase awareness of the gene mutation that increases risk substantially, it also explained what your options are if that blood test does return positive: mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
According to a study by the Medical University of Graz in Austria, since Jolie spoke out, more women have a better understanding of what’s involved in breast reconstruction—they now know that it can be done using a woman’s own tissue, say from her abdomen, and that the reconstruction can be done at the same time as the breasts are removed. The study had coincidentally began before Jolie’s article came out and it surveyed 1,000 women on how much they knew about their options when it comes to breast cancer. Once the NYT piece ran, they spoke to the same women again and found that awareness had increased. Recently, Jolie announced that she has also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to further reduce her risk. The actor has lost her mother and grandmother to ovarian cancer.
Jolie’s speaking out has also motivated more women to get tested for the BRCA1 gene, the one that’s been associated with higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer. It’s what the researchers are calling the Angelina Jolie effect.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Pick up a copy of ELLE October 2015 for stories of courage and hope from survivors and their families