Angelina Jolie credited for spike in B.C. cancer risk screenings
CTV British Columbia
Published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 5:00PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 24, 2013 9:00PM PDT
Hollywood star power may be behind a recent spike in cancer risk screenings in British Columbia.
The BC Cancer Agency says the number of people getting referred for genetic testing to find out about their risk level has increased dramatically in the months after Angelina Jolie shared news of her double mastectomy this spring.
Jolie revealed her surgery in a New York Times op-ed piece in June, saying she had her breasts removed after learning she carried the BRCA1 cancer gene, which gave her an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. The inherited genetic mutation also meant she had a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer.
Her mother died of ovarian cancer at 56, and her aunt died of breast cancer earlier this year.
Dr. Barb McGillivray with the BC Cancer Agency says more people have been looking to find out about their risk following Jolie’s revelation.
“We would think that probably at least part of that increase is because of the announcement,” she told CTV News.
From May to August this year, there were just over 1,300 referrals to the agency for genetic counseling – an increase of more than 60 per cent over the same time last year.
“The timing and when it happened is quite striking,” said McGillivray, adding that the agency is looking to identify families that have a high risk of the mutation.
Melanie Gaboriault tested positive for the genetic mutation in 2009, and has since had a hysterectomy, a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
She said from the moment she knew her risk she knew what she had to do.
“I took a few minutes to let the tears flow and realize that this was not something that I ever wanted and then realized what I can do about it and move into action,” she said.
The mother-of-three has greatly reduced her cancer risk through surgery. She says each of her children has a 50-50 chance of having the same genetic mutation, and they’ll be able to undergo testing once they turn 18.
Gaboriault is hopeful Jolie going through the same surgeries will help others like her who have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.
“I'm also very, very hopeful that shining a light on this will allow for more testing for other women and that will ultimately let them get to a point where by the time my children have to make the decisions I've made that they can go in and alter that gene and my children don't have to do what I've done,” she said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Maria Weisgarber