Angelina Jolie's revelation about her double mastectomy did not raise public awareness about breast-cancer risks, says a University of Maryland study.
Many people are aware that Jolie got a preventive double mastectomy in February 2013 after testing positive for the "faulty" BRCA1 gene, which dramatically raises her risks of contracting breast and ovarian cancers. Angelina's mother, aunt, uncle, grandfather and grandmother all died of cancer.
But most people still underestimate their own chances of getting breast cancer because they think it's largely linked to family history, according to the UMD study.
"In the general population, one in 300 to one in 500 women have (the BRCA mutations)," Professor Dina L.G. Borzekowski, who led the study, told the NY Daily News.
"People were not understanding that breast cancer is relatively common, and the mutation only contributes to some of the cases that are out there."
An online poll of 2,500 people revealed that 75 percent had heard about Jolie's mastectomy, but less than 10 percent could answer questions about the BRCA gene mutations and their own risks of getting breast cancer.
Borzekowski isn't blaming Angelina Jolie for the public's lack of awareness about breast cancer. To the contrary, she praised Jolie for coming forward with her story.
(Angelina) did something very courageous and remarkable. Celebrities can do a great job in raising awareness about different diseases or illnesses, and she did that. The problem is, she was talking about something very difficult that people have a hard time understanding."
Borzekowski said the media and health-care providers should have done a better job of educating the public about breast cancer after Angelina announced her preventive cancer surgery.
Borzekowski said people without a family history of cancer continue to think they're not at risk, which may cause them to not be on the lookout for symptoms or take simple tests to detect the deadly disease.
"One in eight women will develop breast cancer," Borzekowski said. "In many cases it's not known why a woman gets it."