Angelina Jolie's brave decision to have both breasts removed after testing positive for a cancer-causing gene is creating a ripple effect.
The star's announcement that she tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation is causing a surge in interest in the test and her double mastectomy surgery.
"The people that share their stories, the more celebrity around it, the more people learn about hereditary cancer," said Sue Friedman, who founded the non-profit group FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). FORCE is a Tampa-based national support network for women battling hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33. I didn't know it was hereditary," Friedman said Thursday.
Two weeks after Angelina's announcement, traffic to FORCE's website and hotline spiked, four-fold.
"I know there's been some concerns that women will panic, women who don't have a family history. Genetic testing isn't for everyone, but I have to say that most of the contact that we're seeing is people with a family history of cancer that should be asking these questions," she said.
Moffitt Cancer Center's genetic counselors say the exposure about BRCA testing is huge for women's health.
"I think there's still a lot of people that have no idea that it's out there and may impact them," certified genetic counselor Jennifer Brzosowicz said.
They've also noticed an increased demand for expert advice on a woman's risk for carrying the gene.
"We do an initial consultation where we take all that family history and do an assessment," Brzosowicz said.
It's information empowering women, with a little star-power to back them up.
"This is just one more way to reinforce the message that you can still be feminine, our breasts don't define us," Friedman said.
The BRCA gene test is expensive. It costs about $3,500, but experts tell us insurance companies generally cover it if the patient has a significant family history.
For more information on FORCE, visit www.facingourrisk.org.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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