Published: 7:02 p.m. EDT, September 14, 2023 | Updated: 7:07 p.m. EDT, September 14, 2023
Experts say women should be wary of unnecessary mastectomies due to the “Jolie effect.”
Women with mutations in the BRCA1 gene, such as Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, and the associated BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of breast cancer.
But a study has now found that if you also have a mother or sister who has breast cancer, your risk is 76 percent higher.
Experts worry that women may not realize that their risk of breast cancer is far higher if they have a family history, like Ms. Jolie, who had a mastectomy to reduce her risk of cancer.
Those without a family history may need to undergo surgery to protect themselves from cancer and make the important decision without realizing that they are far less likely to develop it.
Women with mutations in the BRCA1 gene, such as Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie (pictured in 2021), and the associated BRCA2 gene, have a higher risk of breast cancer
The evidence comes from a study of 450,000 Britons aged 40 to 70 who underwent genetic testing as part of the UK Biobank Health Study.
These included 230 with a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, 78 of whom also had a mother or sister who had breast cancer.
When these people were followed until age 60, nearly 45 percent with the genetic mutation and a family history of breast cancer developed breast cancer.
But only 23 percent of women with the mutation developed breast cancer before the age of 60, unless there was a close family history of it.
Researchers say women should keep a close eye on the numbers as the increasing use of at-home genetic testing kits means many can now find out they have a mutation in one of the BRCA genes.
Experts are concerned about the decisions these women could make, who would not have been eligible for a genetic test through the NHS unless they had breast or ovarian cancer or a family member with one of these cancers and a known BRCA mutation.
Hollywood star Jolie (pictured in 2011) had a mastectomy to reduce her risk of cancer
Researchers say women should pay close attention to the numbers as the increase in take-at-home genetic testing kits means many can now find out they have a mutation (stock image)
Dr. Leigh Jackson, who led the study from the University of Exeter, said more women were opting for breast cancer surgery, particularly since Angelina Jolie, 48, shared her experience.
But he added: “Being told you have a high genetic risk of disease can really influence the level of fear you have about a particular condition and the resulting actions you can take.”
“We urge that anyone communicating cancer risk does so based on a detailed family history and not just genetics.”
The study, published in the Lancet journal eClinical Medicine, said estimates of breast cancer risk from genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 may be misleadingly high for people without a family history of the disease.
That’s because people with a family history are likely to be at higher risk of unknown mutations in genes other than the BRCA genes.