Did people learn from Angelina Jolie breast cancer news coverage?

No, according to a study published in the journal Genetics in Medicine this week.

And the researchers had several direct messages for journalists, such as:

  • Celebrities can successfully raise awareness about a health issue, but it is a greater challenge for health journalists to ensure accurate understanding.
  • As our understanding of the genetic contribution to disease risk continues to unfold, it will be vital for health journalists to seek out clinical and scientific experts who can communicate population risks in ways that inform, rather than alarm.

The NPR Shots blog summarized the study:

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins surveyed over 2,500 Americans and found that while 3 out of 4 knew that Jolie had gotten a mastectomy, less than 10 percent properly understood Jolie’s condition.

News coverage about Jolie’s mastectomy tended to gloss over how rare her situation was, another recent study found. The genetic mutation that Jolie has only accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Nature World News reported:

“Ms. Jolie’s health story was prominently featured throughout the media and was a chance to mobilize health communicators and educators to teach about the nuanced issues around genetic testing, risk, and prophylactic surgery,” explained lead author Dina Borzekowski, a research professor in UMD’s Department of Behavior and Community Health. “It feels like it was a missed opportunity to educate the public about a complex but rare health situation.”

In the same journal is another paper, “Angelina Jolie’s faulty gene: newspaper coverage of a celebrity’s preventive bilateral mastectomy in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.” The researchers wrote:

The results show that although the press discussed key issues surrounding predictive genetic testing and preventive options for women at high risk of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer, important medical information about the rarity of Jolie’s condition was not communicated to the public.

The results highlight the media’s overwhelmingly positive slant toward Jolie’s mastectomy, while overlooking the relative rarity of her situation, the challenges of “celebrity medicine,” and how celebrities influence people’s medical decisions. Future research is required to investigate whether the media hype has influenced demand and use of BRCA1/2 testing and preventive mastectomies.

Let’s see how many news sources report on these studies compared with those who reported on Jolie’s original statement and NYT editorial.


Follow us on Twitter:



and on Facebook.


You might also like


Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Comments are closed.