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The Angelina Jolie effect

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Media attention highlights the challenges faced by the rapidly developing field of familial cancer

amilial cancer centres (FCCs) have been established throughout Australia to investigate an individual’s personal and family history of cancer, with the goal of providing familial risk assessment and management advice, and ensuring that the limited resources available for genetic testing are used to maximum benefit. This highly specialised field recently enjoyed a brief moment in the celebrity spotlight when Angelina Jolie, one of the world’s highest profile celebrities, disclosed that she carries a BRCA1 gene mutation and opted to have preventive bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction to manage her breast cancer risk. In a thoughtful opinion piece in the New York Times, Jolie discussed her extensive family history and explained how she had come to her own personal choices to manage her risk.1

The article was followed by a period of intense media interest locally: 233 print articles on this issue were published in Australia in the following week. The effect was felt immediately in the FCCs. Within days, the number of referrals of individuals concerned about their family history more than doubled, as shown by the activity data from…