Washington: A new study says that an increase in women with breast cancer choosing double mastectomy may be influenced by media coverage of celebrities.
From 2000 to 2012, 17 celebrities publicly disclosed their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed 727 articles from major U.S. print publications that covered these celebrity diagnoses.
Four celebrities underwent double mastectomy, and 45 percent of the media coverage about their diagnoses mentioned that. Of the 10 celebrities who had a single mastectomy or breast conserving therapy, 26 percent of the media coverage discussed it.
During that time, the number of women with breast cancer who underwent double mastectomy at the University of Michigan rose nearly five-fold.
When actress Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer, a family history and BRCA mutation influenced her decision to have a double mastectomy.
The BRCA mutation meant she had a high risk of cancer returning in one breast or a new cancer developing in the other breast. It's a detail that only a small proportion of media coverage included.
Then, in 2013, Angelina Jolie wrote in the New York Times that she had both breasts removed because a BRCA mutation put her at high risk of breast cancer.
While many refer to the "Angeline Jolie effect" as influencing the rise in double mastectomy, it began earlier than that.
It's not uncommon for celebrities to influence health trends. Following Jolie's announcement, more people sought genetic testing. After Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy on the Today Show, colonoscopy rates increased. In 1987, after Nancy Reagan chose a mastectomy over breast conserving therapy, rates of breast conservation dropped 20 percent.
The concern, the authors write, is that women today are choosing double mastectomy based on inaccurate information about the risks and benefits. And because they are coming to their surgeon with their mind made up, there's less opportunity for surgeons to educate.
The study has been published in Annals of Surgical Oncology.