‘Angelina Effect’ Incites National Craze For Genetic Testing, Insurance Companies Balk

The “Angelina effect” has spurred a national craze for genetic testing after actress Angelina Jolie made headlines recently for undergoing surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes after discovering through genetic testing that she was prone to breast and ovarian cancer.

However, major insurance companies are refusing to pay for the latest generation of tests, known as multi-gene panel tests, according to Reuters. These include providers like Aetna, Anthem, and Cigna, who claim the tests are unproven and could entice patients to seek unnecessary medical care.

The Angelina effect is growing by the day as women, especially those with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, flock to get tested.

Angelina Jolie, 39, underwent a double mastectomy in 2013 after a genetic test found she carried mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. After Angelina Jolie’s initial mastectomy, the Angelina effect was born with a 40 percent rise in genetic testing. She followed that procedure with the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes last month. Since then, the Angelina effect has grown even more.

The Angelina effect has women seeking the newest panel tests, which can cost between $2,000 to $4,900 and analyze 20 or more genes at once.

While putting the spotlight on genetic testing and early screening and prevention is a good thing, the science of genetic testing is still relatively young, say experts.

Time magazine published a cover story on the Angelina effect and noted that women should proceed cautiously.

“Human beings are very good at worrying — it’s what keeps us alive and out of harm’s way. But we’re also good at over-worrying, making irreversible decisions to reduce or avoid risks that don’t really exist at all. Jolie’s brave example can make us all smarter and help keep us all healthier — but only if we take the right lessons from it.”

Angelina Jolie chose to take the bold steps of removing her breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes in light of losing several close female relatives to breast and ovarian cancer, including her mother, grandmother, and aunt.

In her New York Times op-ed piece announcing her second surgery, Angeline Jolie encouraged women to seek genetic counseling, strengthening the Angelina effect once again.

“I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”

According to Reuters, thousands of cancer deaths are attributed to hereditary cancers, which can, in some cases, be detected through genetic testing panels.

“Hereditary cancers are expected to account for about 5 percent of the 230,000 cases of invasive breast cancer that will be diagnosed this year in the United States.”

The Angelina effect will likely be a phenomenon for some time to come and may grow as the science of genetic testing improves in the years to come.

[Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for A&E Network]