In one recent study that followed nearly 2,500 women who carried one of the two dangerous gene variants, having a double mastectomy did appear to lower their risk of breast cancer. None of the women who opted to have their breasts or ovaries removed were diagnosed with breast cancer in the three decades they were followed, while 7 percent of those who chose not to have surgery were.
Golshan said, however, that only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer patients fall into this high-risk category. For all other women, even those who've had breast cancer, surgery does not increase chances of survival and can lead to avoidable complications and health problems.
Dr. Stephen Grobmyer, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Breast Center, said he believed the Jolie Effect was responsible for the greater number of requests for genetic counseling and testing but not for the rise in pre-emptive mastectomies.
"The increased demand for surgery was not borne out of her editorial, and she was not the first to raise it. We've been talking about it for years," he said.
This appears to be true even for women without a high genetic risk. The Journal of Clinical Oncology reported an 188 percent jump in the surgery between 1998 and 2005 among women given a new diagnosis in one breast of ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, the "stage zero" cancer. Among women with early-stage invasive disease, the rates soared more than 150 percent.
Grobmyer said he thought only good could come from Jolie being so up-front about her medical choices and that it was the responsibility of caregivers to steer their patients toward their own right medical choices.
"The most important thing Jolie has done is open the discussion and helped educate people about their family history of breast cancer," he said. "In that way, she probably is saving lives."
Join Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, for a tweet chat today at 1 p.m., ET on breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survival.
While only a fraction of breast-cancer cases are linked to genetic mutations, there are many other risk factors associated with breast cancer, including age, environment and lifestyle. Besser will be joined by experts and those who've survived breast cancer to discuss these risks and what steps you can take to lower your chances of developing the disease.
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