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In May 2013, Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about why she had gone through with a preventative double mastectomy the previous month.

Her family history of breast and ovarian cancer and testing positive for a mutation in the BRCA 1 gene, which raised her chances of developing the same cancer that killed her mother by over 60 percent, were compelling reasons.

With hereditary breast cancer it is typical for women to be diagnosed at a young age, the average age for BRCA mutation being 41 compared to age 61 in breast cancer patients without the mutation. It is typical to see multiple cases on the same side of the family, and often ovarian cancer as well.

That Jolie went public with this information was a surprise, and the resulting reaction in the medical world has been dubbed The Angelina Effect. Curious about what the effect actually was, Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto decided to do a study on the clinic’s referrals six months previous to Jolie’s announcement and the six months following it.

According to the CBC, the clinic’s study showed that referrals rose 90 percent, those who qualified for testing (based on prevalence in their family history) rose 105 percent, and detection of women who were carrying the gene rose 110 percent. About a third of the patients in the study who had the mutation, like Jolie, decided to have the double mastectomies. The rest opted for less invasive surgeries or heightened screening.

Head of Preventive Oncology at the Odette Cancer Centre, Dr. Andrea Eisen believes Jolie’s decision to go public has saved lives. “I really think she did,” Dr. Eisen told CBC. "We’ve certainly seen in our own clinic setting a far greater number of women coming forward for genetic assessment than before her story became public.

“Her piece gave a lot of detailed information about the genetics of breast cancer and the details of her own risk. It wasn’t as we often see with celebrity disclosures. There was enough information for women to think about their family histories and make a good decision about genetic counseling.”

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