Angelina Jolie's Honesty and Its Amazing Effect on Breast Cancer Inquiries

Angelina Jolie. Photo: WireImage/Getty ImagesAfter Angelina Jolie announced that she’d had a mastectomy in an attempt to dodge cancer, calls from women wondering about the procedure rose sharply in the U.K., British breast cancer charities have reported.

The story, appearing in the Daily Mail on Wednesday, dubs the surge in queries the “Jolie effect,” noting that the number of calls to Cancer Research U.K.’s helpline have increased four-fold. Visits to the organization’s website made a similar jump following the celebrity’s revelation in May.

The 38-year-old's news that she’d tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, which radically increases a woman's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, was made public via her New York Times Op-Ed piece “My Medical Choice.”

And, unsurprisingly, it’s had a similar influence on this side of the pond.

“The baseline of inquiries remains a little bit higher than it was pre-story,” Rebecca Nagy, cancer counselor and president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, tells Yahoo Shine. She notes that, while the rise in interest over BRCA gene testing has waned a bit since May, its effect has generally been lasting.

“Some of my colleagues have noticed that the volume [of inquiries] spiked and has not gone down since,” Nagy says. “Others say it spiked and then went down. It seems to be dependent on location.” But in her own practice, she adds, “I have seen a continuation of more low-risk women coming in just to talk, and I don’t think they would’ve come in had that story not broken. They wanted to know their risk — even women who weren’t touched by cancer in their family. I found that interesting.” The disease does, however, run in Jolie's family. Both her mother and maternal aunt died of breast cancer.

A report from the National Cancer Institute, focusing on the days immediately following Jolie’s story, showed a marked increase in women searching for related information. On the day of her announcement, page views of the organization's website, Cancer.gov (in English and Spanish), were 54 percent higher than on the same day during the previous week. And the website’s Preventative Mastectomy FactSheet,  which normally receives less than 200 page views per day, skyrocketed to more than 69,000 on May 14.

Also, in just the two and a half days after Jolie's piece was published, the Cancer Information Service saw a tenfold jump in phone, email, and Web-chat inquiries.

“The news of Angelina Jolie’s preventative mastectomy drove one of the largest increases in engagement with NCI digital resources seen since measurement began,” stated the report, “Angelina Jolie’s Preventative Mastectomy: Impact on NCI Resources.”

In August, Myriad Genetics, which performs the majority of BRCA-gene tests in the country, noted the impact of Jolie’s announcement on its latest fiscal year. A report by the company called the period of time, which saw year-over-year growth of 51 percent, “stand-out.” It concluded that the Jolie effect would not likely last, though.

“While the company received a benefit from the recent celebrity publicity around breast cancer, the duration of this publicity benefit is likely to be short term,” the public fact sheet noted.

Myriad may have a point. A 2003 study looked at a similar phenomenon — the “Couric effect,” analyzing the impact that Katie Couric had on colon cancer screenings after her husband’s 1998 death from the disease made her an outspoken advocate and she underwent a colonoscopy on the air. It found that the effect was extremely notable, but temporary.

“Katie Couric's televised colon cancer awareness campaign was temporally associated with an increase in colonoscopy use in 2 different data sets,” it concluded. “These findings suggest that a celebrity spokesperson can have a substantial impact on public participation in preventive care programs.”

As for the Jolie effect, only time will tell.