"The Angelina Effect" prompts women to go in for breast cancer check-ups

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Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines last year as she underwent a preventative double mastectomy, after learning she was a carrier of the breast cancer gene.

Researchers say since then, the number of referrals for genetic counseling and genetic testing has increased by 90%.

A review of records from a Canadian cancer center found that those referrals lead to double the number of women who were identified as being carriers of the breast cancer gene; showing the major impact public figures can have on health related issues.

"We have had women, who have seen it on the news and maybe it's been in the back of their mind but seeing a public figure that has gone through this, I think has made some women comfortable to come forward and say, "Hey, maybe I should get this checked out," says Dr. Holland Ravelle, a radiologist with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Although it may not be every day, Dr. Ravelle says she sees women who are inspired to get a check-up because of tabloids.

“I think it's a good thing because these women should be getting their mammograms anyway, and if they come in and are a little bit more confident about finding out what their risk it, it doesn't really matter to me what prompted that,” says Dr. Ravelle who says she thinks more people follow social media than medical research updates.

Dr. Ravelle says Mayo Clinic Health System has been taking steps for five years to improve its process, long before Jolie made headlines.

“Now when women come in for a mammogram, we ask a series of questions, but we also put it through a risk calculator to determine specifically how high that women's risk of breast cancer is,” says Dr. Ravelle saying if a women’s risk is calculated at over 20% they’re considered to be high risk.

She says, determining the risk using the calculator is a new process the radiology department found to be the easiest way to catch women who were high risk for breast cancer, because they were already coming in for mammograms. Dr. Ravelle says once women are determined to be high risk they're given the option to receive genetic testing, or be referred to an oncologist.

"Even just having these women know they are at high risk made them more likely to come back for their yearly mammograms,” says Dr. Ravelle saying that whether or not it’s a celebrity prompting you to go in for a check-up, it’s important to come in every year.

Dr. Ravelle says the first year using the risk calculator they did 20,000 mammograms and saw about 1,800 women whose risk was at or above 20%.

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