“The Angelina Effect” and Stigma

7 out of 10 British women polled claim that they would have a prophylactic mastectomy like Angelina Jolie did if they tested positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. That’s 68% of respondents.

But, of course, that’s not true. The United States has the highest rates of mastectomy and even here only 3 out of 10 American women have prophylactic mastectomies after they test positive for a BRCA mutation. It’s not that the women in the poll are lying, per se. It’s that no woman can truly predict what she would do in that particular situation until she faces it herself, which most never will. After all, BRCA+ women are the 1%, as Gayle Sulik points out.

This poll doesn’t tell us if most women would have preventive surgery, but it does tell us about changing attitudes towards preventive surgery. Angelina Jolie’s op-ed has positively changed public perceptions of prophylactic mastectomies, and women who are actually BRCA+ and do choose risk-reducing surgery will be all the more likely to find support within their own communities and positive depictions of similar surgeries in the media. Hopefully, the “Angelina Effect” will continue to erode the stigma attached to being BRCA+, HBOC, and other women’s cancers.

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2 thoughts on ““The Angelina Effect” and Stigma

  1. Interesting take on the “Angelina effect.” Certainly, there has been a lot more media coverage and discussion of the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy option. However, as a woman who is BRCA positive and (though I have done ovary and fallopian tube removal for the ovarian cancer risk) is doing enhanced breast surveillance paired with tamoxifen, I find the pendulum has swung the other way. Media stories are overwhelmingly mastectomy focused. And the BRCA online community and support groups are generally as well. Important to remember that there are many paths and to understand and support one another regardless of our individual choices.

  2. Good points, Linda. Joanna Rudnick and Masha Gessen definitely seem to have felt pressured to do PBM. And you’re right that the BRCA+ community online is very surgery oriented. On the other hand, as a BCRA+ woman who chose PBM very early on, I have felt judged by normal people for taking the “radical” option. I think BRCA+ women are just between a rock and a hard place–we can’t win. Or rather, we’ll know we’ve won when we have good options and can choose between them without censure and stigma.

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