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Breast Cancer

Confusion over breast cancer risks widespread despite Jolie’s mastectomy

Actress Angelina Jolie accepts the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 5th Annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Hollywood, California November 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Mario Anzuon)

Despite the widely covered news of Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomy earlier this year, much confusion still exists over the risks associated with the BRCA gene mutation or having a family history of breast cancer, Counsel and Heal reported.

In May, Jolie revealed in a New York Times editorial that she had chosen to undergo a preventive mastectomy and reconstruction after learning that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene, which has been linked to a 65 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

In an attempt to gauge whether Jolie’s announcement had led to widespread awareness about the risks of breast cancer, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health conducted a survey of 2,500 women – about three-quarters of whom were familiar with Jolie’s story.  

However, despite their knowledge of Jolie’s decision, fewer than 10 percent of women surveyed were able to correctly answer questions about the BRCA mutation and approximately 50 percent of women incorrectly believed that a woman’s risk for breast cancer was extremely low if the disease did not run in her family.

"Since many more women without a family history develop breast cancer each year than those with, it is important that women don't feel falsely reassured by a negative family history," study co-author Dr. Debra Roter, director of the Center for Genomic Literacy and Communication at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release.

Despite the fact that most women surveyed still didn’t have a firm grasp of some of the risks associated with breast cancer, 75 percent of study participants still believed Jolie did the right thing by sharing her ordeal.

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