Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy improved public awareness of breast cancer, according to new report

Jolie's high-profile case has had a positive impact on women's understanding of breast reconstruction options

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The Independent Online

Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy has improved public awareness of breast cancer, according to a new report, with research also suggesting women are now better informed about breast reconstruction options since the actress and activist went public with her cancer diagnosis in 2013.

Jolie made the announcement that she would undergo the surgery (and a reconstructive operation) after learning she carried a genetic mutation that increased her likelihood of being diagnosed with breast cancer further down the line.

Her bravery gained significant media attention, but researchers at the Medical University of Graz in Austria wanted to see if press coverage lead to a positive change in public perception of the options available to other women.

The study involved asking 1,000 female participants questions before and after Jolie’s announcement and used the results to gauge how a high profile diagnosis impacted other people.

They found awareness that reconstruction can take place during the mastectomy operation increased from 40.5 to 59.5 per cent following Jolie’s own reconstructive surgery.

Additionally, the number of women who knew breast reconstruction can be achieved with the use of the patients own tissue increased from 57.6 to 68.9 per cent.

Furthermore, one in five women taking the poll said media coverage of Jolie’s treatment made them deal with the topic of breast cancer more ‘intensively’.

Dr Davd Benjamin Lumenta, who led the study, said the decision to gauge public opinion happened during an existing study, and that Jolie’s high-profile diagnosis presented a unique opportunity to look at public perceptions of cancer.

“'This is the first prospective report to prove the media's effect on the healthcare-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 Mrs Jolie-Pitt's announcement, triggering a timely repetition thereafter in a second poll,” he said.

“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.”

Jolie wrote about her choice to have a double mastectomy in a pice for The New York Times, saying she had been given an estimated 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer.

“I wanted other women at risk to know about the options,” she wrote.

“I went through what I imagine thousands of other women have felt. I told myself to stay calm, to be strong, and that I had no reason to think I wouldn’t live to see my children grow up and to meet my grandchildren.”

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