Photo source: Angelina Jolie by Gage Skidmore (flickr)
In 2013, Angelina Jolie announced her decision to have preventative double mastectomies. At that time, she had discovered that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, which increased her risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
In just 2 short years following her mastectomies, she also had her ovaries removed as well. Her decision had a lot to do with her own painful loss in 2007, when her beloved mother lost her battle to ovarian cancer at the early age of 56 years old.
Angelina's health decision has inspired other women to follow in her path
For many women, Angelina Jolie is admired for her incredible beauty and feminism. That's why her decision to have her breasts removed came as a huge inspiration for others who were struggling with the decision. Mastectomies remove the part of the body that is representative of feminine beauty and sexuality, and many women often struggle with the concept of having their breasts removed.
When Angelina Jolie publicly announced her surgeries, many women began to question why such a figure of beauty would do such a thing. Her actions spoke loudly to the importance of women's health and made some more accepting of receiving potentially life-saving, preventative mastectomies. When it comes to having an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, undergoing these interventions can really help to spare that person from ever getting these often aggressively deadly cancers if they are at heightened risk. Her actions compelled bravery in other high-risk women to consider surgeries as well.
A study showed that Angelina's announcement impacted the general public
But did Angelina's actions truly influence other women to become more accepting of such a radical surgery? A recent research study has shown that this was indeed the case. It's important to understand that this data shows us how powerful celebrities are, especially when they are viewed as role models by the public. Their voice can be a huge contributing part of how people ultimately choose to make important decisions, even as important as those regarding their health.
The author of the study, Art Sedrakyan, is a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. In their research, they analyzed data on risk-reducing mastectomy between 2004-2014 to try to assess whether there was an impact of the news of Jolie's surgeries. They collected data on surgeries performed in the State of New York and also in New South Wales in Australia. Interestingly, they found that there was indeed a rise in mastectomies after Jolie's announcement. In New York, the number of women who underwent the procedure increased by nearly double 20 months after Jolie's announcement, from 3.3 to 6.6 bimonthly cases per 1 million people. Similar results were found in the New South Wales data as well. Their findings were published in the September issue of Health Services Research.
It's important for healthcare professionals and policymakers to recognize celebrity influence
Sedrakyan believes that their findings call for awareness in healthcare providers and policymakers to pay heed to the impact of celebrities on public health. When celebrities make public announcements about their actions on genetic tests or treatment choices, policy-makers and healthcare providers need to be prepared for the impact on public health. For physicians, it may influence the ideologies and decisions of their own patients as well.
Another study in 2015 found that there was also an increase in a number of preventative mastectomies performed after Jolie announced her surgeries. Similarly, after the famous singer Kylie Minogue announced her breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, there were studies showing an increase in breast imaging performed in women aged 25 to 44. It seems like the celebrities are role models not only for trendy fashions and style but also for healthcare decisions too!
Why preventative surgery may be the right answer for some women
Angelina Jolie's decision to have preventative surgery removing both her breasts and ovaries is one that could have potentially spared her the horrors of ovarian or breast cancer. Jolie personally suffered a tragedy when her own mother passed due to devastating ovarian cancer, giving her more reason to go through with her preventative interventions.
Furthermore, as an active philanthropist with a huge heart, she actively advocates for other women to make the same decision if they too harbor a higher risk for these diseases. Though breast cancer has been known to improved survival rates with adequate treatment and early diagnosis, people with genetic susceptibility may be subject to more aggressive types with poorer prognosis and more advanced stage at diagnosis. Furthermore, ovarian cancer is still a high mortality cancer and is rarely diagnosed early enough for an effective cure. For these reasons, having preventative surgery for patients with genetic mutations with high risk for these cancers might be the best decision for many women.
Jolie's decision was ultimately propelled by the loss of her beloved mother
Jolie was extremely close to her mother, with whom she bears an uncanny resemblance. When Marcheline lost her life to ovarian cancer in 2007, the loss hit Angelina extremely hard. Before her death, Marcheline was a fierce advocate for cancer awareness. Angelina looks up to her mother very much, and much of her humanitarian nature was inspired by her late mother. When talking of her mother, she shares that she was blessed to have such a dedicated woman who gave up so much in her life in order to give the chances she and her brother had growing up. The two remained extremely close up until her death in 2007, and as an adult, Jolie felt as though they were more like sisters rather than mother and daughter. Her mother's death played a huge part in her decision to go through with preventative surgery, as she was forced to watch her beloved mother battle cancer for 8 years leading up to her passing. In one interview after her passing, Jolie shared that the void in her life following her mother's death compelled her to make the brave decision of going forward with a double mastectomy. She hoped that in doing so, her children would not have to experience the pain she endured watching her mother suffer.
Jolie hopes that her surgeries will keep her with her children
As a mother of six beautiful children, Jolie is thankful that her surgeries will keep her with her children for many years to come. When it comes to life, every precious moment matters, and going through the radical surgeries to protect her life are worth the price when Jolie knows she will be present for her children as they grow up.