Did Women Foolishly Follow Angelina Jolie Into Cancer Gene Testing?

(FoxNews.com) Swayed by the power of celebrity, many women needlessly rushed to get genetic testing for the cancer-causing BRCA mutations right after actress Angelina Jolie announced in May 2013 that she underwent a double mastectomy based on a positive BRCA test, concluded a study in the BMJ last month.

Other studies, too, have reported an uptick in BRCA testing after Jolie’s announcement — the “Angelina effect” — but this one went further. Although insurance claims for nearly 10 million women aged 18 to 64 showed that BRCA testing rose 64 percent in the 15 days after Jolie described her BRCA result and surgery, that wasn’t followed by additional mastectomies.

One would expect an uptick in BRCA testing to be followed by an uptick in mastectomies, reasoned health economist Dr. Anupam Jena and graduate student Sunita Desai of Harvard Medical School: When women learn they carry a cancer-causing BRCA mutation, more undergo mastectomy than if they had remained in the dark. But the rate of mastectomy within 60 days of a BRCA test fell, they found, from 10 percent of tested women in the four months before Jolie’s announcement to 7 percent in the eight months after (through the end of 2013). That suggests most women who underwent BRCA testing because of Jolie’s announcement had a lower probability of a BRCA mutation than women tested before her announcement, the researchers concluded.

BRCA testing is recommended for women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or other risk factors, but the authors said their finding suggests that most of the women who got tested didn’t have an elevated risk of cancer and provides a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of celebrity endorsements of medical tests and procedures. They calculated that the extra testing cost as much as $13.5 million….