Celebrity gossip is usually centered on unimportant things, and as busy as I am I rarely pay attention to any of it. However, I was forced to take pause with the recent news of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, which she decided to undergo after making discovery that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene. For once, celebrity gossip might be doing more good than harm. In the past few weeks, talk about the BRCA 1 and 2 genes has gained a lot of momentum.
An increasing number of women are realizing how important it is to receive this screening procedure, especially if they have a family history of breast and ovarian cancers. Many women had certainly not heard about BRCA 1 and 2 screenings until Jolie’s frank discussion of the issue—something which is astonishing, as studies have already shown that testing for the BRCA gene increases awareness in women, leading them to higher rates of surveillance with regular self-checks and mammograms, as well as to a higher rate of preventative operations to reduce their cancer risks, such as Jolie’s double-mastectomy.
In short, the Angelina Jolie story is one piece of celebrity news that I can get behind. It might be a little distressing to think that some women are only learning about such an important topic through gossip magazines, rather than through their doctors, but sometimes it is best to appreciate any help you can get. In this case, if a larger number of women receive genetic testing to determine whether or not they are a carrier of the BRCA 1 or 2 gene as a result of a celebrity news story, then at least it can be said that perhaps our celebrity culture has done something right for once.
Angeline Jolie should, of course, be commended for her strength in speaking so publicly about such an important issue. The fact that she was willing to open up about her experiences in hopes of raising awareness may help many women prevent breast and ovarian cancers.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.