December 20, 2013

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Angelina Jolie heightened awareness about breast cancer when she announced in a New York Times op-ed that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy. But a new study led by researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health reveals that widespread awareness of Jolie's story did not translate into increased understanding of breast cancer risk.

The survey of more than 2,500 Americans found that three out of four were aware of Jolie's story, but fewer than 10 percent of those could correctly answer questions about the BRCA gene mutation that Jolie carries and the typical person's risk of developing breast cancer. Though very rare, women with harmful mutations in either of two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have a risk of breast cancer that is about five times the normal risk, and a risk of ovarian cancer that is about ten to thirty times normal. The study is published in Genetics in Medicine.

"Ms. Jolie's health story was prominently featured throughout the media and was a chance to mobilize health communicators and educators to teach about the nuanced issues around genetic testing, risk, and prophylactic surgery," explained lead author Dina Borzekowski, who is a research professor in UMD's Department of Behavior and Community Health. "It feels like it was a missed opportunity to educate the public about a complex but rare health situation."

Read more about the study findings on UMD Right Now (link below).

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Angelina Jolie's Preventive Mastectomy Raised Breast Cancer Awareness, But Not Knowledge: Study

Many confused on breast cancer risk after Angelina Jolie's mastectomy story: study