London: Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie's decision four years back to have both her breasts removed as she carried a high risk of developing breast cancer has improved awareness of reconstructive breast surgery options among women, a new study reveals.
The results indicate that media coverage can serve as a tipping point for improving the general public's knowledge about a particular health topic.
In 2013, Jolie got her breasts removed because she carried a BRCA1 gene mutation that puts her at increased risk of developing breast cancer.
This generated widespread media attention.
To see if such media coverage had an effect on public awareness, a team led by Dr David Benjamin Lumenta from the Medical University of Graz in Austria conducted two online polls with 1,000 female participants each -- one before and the other after Jolie's announcement.
Following the announcement, there was an increase of four percentage points in the proportion of women aware that reconstructive breast surgery is possible after the surgical removal of one or both breasts (from 88.9 to 92.6 percent).
"There were even greater increases in awareness that breast reconstruction can be achieved with the use of one's own tissue and that it can be done during the breast-removal operation," the authors noted.
One-fifth of participants of the second poll indicated that the media coverage about Jolie's announcement made them "deal more intensively with the topic of breast cancer".
"Since individual choice will become a driving force for patient-centred decision-making in the future, cancer specialists should be aware of public opinion when consulting patients with breast cancer," explained Dr Lumenta.
The paper was published online in the journal CANCER.