Public Awareness of Surgical Options for Breast Cancer Improves

October 1, 2015

Significantly more women are now aware of reconstructive surgery options after mastectomies for breast cancer, following coverage of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies in 2013.

The public’s awareness of reconstructive breast surgery options were boosted following media coverage of Angelina Jolie’s hereditary disposition to breast cancer and preventive double mastectomy in 2013. The results of a prospective, public survey were published earlier this week in Cancer.

Significantly more women were aware of reconstructive breast surgery options after mastectomies for breast cancer. About 20% of the 205 women polled communicated that their awareness and interest in breast cancer stemmed from the media coverage of Angelina Jolie. The survey results suggest that media coverage can improve the health IQ of the public.

“The results underscore the importance of a media-related impact for professionals in the health care sector, which can serve as a tipping point for raising awareness and improving knowledge concerning a specific disease among the general public,” wrote David Benjamin Lumenta, MD, of the department of surgery at the Medical University of Graz in Austria, and colleagues.

Angelina Jolie publically spoke about being a BRCA1 germline mutation carrier and had a preventive double mastectomy in May 2013. To address how the media coverage of this affected awareness of genetic predisposition to breast cancer and surgical options, Lumenta and colleagues conducted two separate surveys of 1,000 individuals each. The participants were all women between the ages of 18 and 65. The first survey (poll 1) was conducted in May 2013 prior to the news coverage and the second (poll 2) was in June 2013, following the media coverage. 

Awareness of breast reconstructive surgery in the first poll was 88.9% and increased to 92.6% following the media coverage (P = .004). There was also an increase in awareness that a patient’s own tissue could be used for the reconstruction (from 57.6% to 68.9%). Women were also more aware that the reconstruction can be done during the breast removal surgery (increase from 40.5% to 59.5%).

In poll 2, women said they preferred autologous (66.2%) compared to implant-based (8.2%) breast reconstructions. Another 25.6% indicated that they had no preference.

Twenty percent of women stated that the media’s coverage of Angelina Jolie’s news made them “deal more intensively with the topic of breast cancer.”

“The current study results indicate that it is important and feasible to obtain a snapshot of the general public’s awareness and the media-related influence on health care-related issues,” wrote the study authors.

Finally, the authors noted that the study was serendipitous and enabled them to “conduct the prospective media-related effect of breast cancer treatment awareness in the female general public for the first time.”