“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.

Advertisements