A new study has found that media coverage can serve as a tipping point for improving the general public's knowledge about a particular health topic.
The study found increased awareness about reconstructive breast surgery options following Angelina Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction.
In 2013, Angelina Jolie's decision to have both of her breasts removed—which she chose because she carries a BRCA1 gene mutation that puts her at increased risk of developing breast cancer—generated considerable media attention.
To see if such media coverage had an effect on public awareness, a team led by Dr David Benjamin Lumenta of the Division of Plastic, Aesthetic, and Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the Medical University of Graz, in Austria, conducted two online polls with 1000 female participants each—one before and the other after the celebrity's announcement.
Following the announcement, 4 percent more women were aware that reconstructive breast surgery is possible after the surgical removal of one or both breasts.
There were even greater increase in awareness that breast reconstruction can be achieved with the use of one's own tissue (11 percent increased awareness) and that it can be done during the breast-removal operation (19 percent increased awareness).
One-fifth of participants of the second poll indicated that the media coverage about Angelia Jolie's announcement made them "deal more intensively with the topic of breast 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 Jolie's announcement, triggering a timely repetition thereafter in a second poll," said Dr Lumenta.
"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," added Dr Lumenta.
The study was published online in CANCER
, a peer reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.