September 28, 2015
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‘Angelina effect’ raises awareness of surgical breast reconstruction

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Public awareness about reconstructive breast surgery options have significantly increased in the wake of Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction, according to study results.

Jolie — who harbors a BRCA1 gene mutation, an indication of increased breast cancer risk — announced in May 2013 that she decided to undergo double mastectomy and surgical reconstruction to reduce her risk for developing breast cancer.

“This is the first prospective report to prove the media’s effect on the health care-related issue of breast cancer among the general public, which was based on a serendipitous design: the initial poll on breast reconstruction was conducted a month before Ms. Jolie’s announcement, triggering a timely repetition thereafter in a second poll,” David Benjamin Lumenta, MD, principal researcher in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Medical University of Graz in Austria, said in a press release.
Lumenta and colleagues conducted two polls to analyze changes in the general public’s awareness of reconstructive options in breast cancer among two population-matched cohorts of women aged 18 to 65 years (n = 1,000 for each cohort). They conducted their first poll (Poll 1) in March 2013, prior to Jolie’s announcement; their second poll (Poll 2) was conducted in June 2013, one month after Jolie’s announcement.

The researchers observed a 4% absolute increase in the awareness of the possibility of breast reconstruction after a mastectomy for breast cancer between Poll 1 and Poll 2 (88.9% vs. 92.6%; P = .004). Further, increased awareness occurred regarding autologous (57.6% vs. 68.9%; OR = 1.63) and single-stage (40.5% vs. 59.5%; OR = 2.16) breast reconstruction.

Approximately 20% (n = 205) of women in Poll 2 reported that media coverage of Jolie’s announcement affected their interest in breast cancer.

A question unique to Poll 2 — which surveyed women on their breast reconstruction preferences — 66.2% of patients indicated a preference for autologous reconstruction and 8.2% indicated a preference for implant-based reconstruction. The remainder of respondents (25.6%) did not indicate a preference.

The researchers identified the use of online panel selection and the preselected format of the survey as study limitations.

“Since individual choice will become a driving force for patient-centered decision-making in the future, cancer specialists should be aware of public opinion when consulting patients with breast cancer,” Lumenta said. – by Cameron Kelsall

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.