Celebrities Can Influence Breast Cancer Treatment

Mastectomy rates increased after actress Angelia Jolie announced her procedure.

Celebrities impact many aspects of everyday life from the cars people buy to the way they style their hair. A new study suggests celebrities may also sway the prevalence of certain medical tests and procedures.

In 2013, Angelina Jolie announced she would undergo a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer due to a BRCA1 gene mutation. The actress told media sources that she also planned to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed since she lost her mother to ovarian cancer.

A new study published by Health Services Research suggests that Jolie could have inspired many English-speaking women to undergo risk-reducing mastectomy (RRM). The authors noted an uptick of these procedures only 3 months after Jolie’s announcement, suggesting that celebrities may also influence health care decisions.

The authors urge health care professionals to offer additional education about treatment and genetic testing to combat the attention given to celebrities and their medical procedures. While mastectomy can be beneficial for some patients, it may be harmful to others, highlighting the need for education and testing.

“This is an important area of research that healthcare providers and policy makers need to pay attention to,” said researcher Art Sedrakyan, PhD, ScD, MD. “If celebrities are going to act on genetic testing and announce their treatment choices, then we should get prepared on our end to assess public health impact.”

The authors discovered that 20 months prior to the announcement, there were 3.3 bimonthly RRMs per 1 million women in New York; however, that number nearly doubled to 6.3 bimonthly RRM cases just 20 months after the announcement, according to the study.

The investigators found similar results in South Wales, Britain. A previous UK study also found that RRM increased after Jolie’s announcement.

The new study showed that 2 separate English-speaking countries saw increases in RMM rates following the actress’ announcement, which rules out local influences, according to the study.

These results may also confirm findings that showed an uptick in breast imaging among Australian women aged 25 to 44 years after the singer Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

The authors recommend that providers should be proactive with celebrities who announce medical or health news, in order to correctly portray correct information about treatment, risk, and cost, as a procedure may not always be the right course of action for every patient, according to the study.

“Both the ‘Kylie Effect’ and the ‘Jolie Effect’ demonstrate the power of celebrity illness and treatment to generate intense media coverage and change consumer behavior,” said researcher Dr Louisa Jorm.