‘Angelina Jolie effect’ sparks surge in genetic testing

Film star Angelina Jolie is being credited with a surge in the number of women who want to be genetically tested for breast cancer in Nova Scotia.

Test referrals up by 80 per cent in Nova Scotia

Angelina Jolie says that she has had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it extremely likely she would get breast cancer. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Film star Angelina Jolie is being credited with a surge in the number of women who want to be genetically tested for breast cancer in Nova Scotia.

In May Jolie announced she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after her doctor told her she had an 87 per cent chance of getting breast cancer due to a gene mutation.

Meghan Ferguson, a genetic counsellor at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said Jolie's story has encouraged thousands of women to be tested.

“My phone started ringing off the hook. Our referrals on hereditary cancer service increased by close to 80 per cent, and that's a big jump,” she said.

Ferguson said her colleagues across North America have seen similar hikes.

But only five to 10 per cent of women qualify for the test. Ferguson said just because someone’s relative has breast cancer doesn’t mean they’ll automatically qualify.

“It's hard and it's getting harder ever since Angelina Jolie because women feel the test is simple and it's a black and white yes or no answer, but it's not,” she said.

Cynthia Flack took her daughter to BRA Day in Halifax (CBC)

Still, breast cancer survivor Cynthia Flack said it’s important for women to think about testing, even if they get regular mammograms.

“I guess I was always thinking because my mom had breast cancer when she was 42. I actually started having mammograms at 37 and I had one MRI at that time and then they felt the mammogram was sufficient.”

But Flack’s mammogram didn't pick up her type of breast cancer.

“Knowing what I know now if I was somebody who had cancer at the time I would recommend it. It is something in the forefront now and it's another option for women. I have three daughters it's certainly a question on their mind absolutely,” said Flack.

She took her daughter to a Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day event in Halifax on Wednesday.

Laura Flack said she knows mammograms are not always enough.

“I am obviously going to have to get tested early like having a mammogram, but if that's an option for me I am totally open to it. I want to know if I have it or not. It’s scary knowing my mom has it and my grandmother,” she said.

For those that do qualify for testing it can take up to 18 months to see a doctor and get results.

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