Why celebrity diagnosis still matters


Celebrities have been talking openly about cancer for years now and public awareness is definitely on the upswing. As October is breast cancer awareness month, it’s time to pause and ask some questions: Does awareness lead to action? And does it affect treatment choice?

When Ms Jolie went public with her decision to have preventive double mastectomy as a treatment for BRCA1, it led to reams of media coverage and attention.

Angelina Jolie

A new study shows that ‘The Angelina Effect’ is statistically significant in that it has improved public awareness about genetic testing for breast cancer as well as the types of reconstructive surgery options available. The study authors designed two surveys to look at changes in the general public’s awareness of reconstructive options in breast cancer. Poll 1 was conducted before Ms Jolie made her announcement in May 2013 and poll 2 was done after the news splash. Each cohort had 1,000 women. About 20% of the women in poll 2 indicated that Ms Jolie’s story had affected their interest in breast cancer. More women from the second poll were aware of different reconstructive options and expressed a preference for one type of surgery over the other.

Ms Jolie and her celebrity are responsible for the first prospective study of how media coverage around a diagnosis can move the needle on treatment choice.

For those of us in communications, the study also supports the idea that new technologies and treatments are best explained within the context of a story. In our moments of vulnerability and illness, it helps to see that someone, somewhere has faced a similar challenge and survived. And coupled with the media firepower that fame brings, it may just be the catalyst that leads to action.


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