This a part 1. How relevant is her story to ours?
The “Angelina Effect” is a term coined by Time in its May 27 cover story on Angelina Jolie’s preventive double mastectomy to lower her risk of breast cancer. Certainly, Angelina and her family deserve our respect for their honesty and courage in their approach to this situation.
The news media’s presentation of Angelina’s story (see my analysis in the addendum) may imply that her personal, dramatic decision constitutes a valid prescription for “the rest of us.” That would be a dangerous assumption because Angelina’s individual situation in terms of risk factors for breast cancer: BRCA1/ BRCA2 mutation plus family is directly applicable to only less than 1% of American women. Also, 95% of the 220,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually are not related to a BRCA1/ BRCA2 mutation. Yet Angelina’s story exerts a powerful influence on individuals’ medical decisions, on the ethical and socioeconomical aspects of genetic testing and finally on medical practice. Time magazine summed-up that powerful influence as the Angelina Effect.
For us individually it is important to understand the Angelina Effect and its presentation because we, both patients and doctors, are becoming more and more influenced by the news media and social media presentation and dissemination of medical (health-related) information.
Lets’ start with the following summary of the impact of Angelina Effect on our lives.
What lessons can we learn from the Angelina Effect?
First and most importantly, we should not accept the Angelina Effect as a prescription against disease. It does not eliminate risk or solve our situation, because:
Getting “preventative” surgery could give a person a false sense of security. This can keep an individual from making necessary, healthy changes in lifestyle, diet, and mental attitude.
The high cost of researching an individual’s genetic risk is prohibitive for those of us who aren’t celebrities, for example BRCA basic testing alone costs three to four thousand dollars.
A successful outcome, in Angelina’s case, of mastectomies followed by plastic surgeries does not represent standard medical care. Only a limited number of hospitals can safely offer that approach. Also, only a limited number of wealthy people can afford it.
The surgical approach and its consequences carry high risk. Evidently, Angelina’s situation justified that risk. However, your genetic situation and family history may be different, with the risks of surgery overriding the benefits.
Finally, let’s remember that Angelina is a fantastic, skilled actor, whose gift is to paint stories that inspire us. You and I make careful choices about the movies we view. Let us do the same here, focusing on the inspirational and loving parts of the story. We can aspire to these qualities in our own lives. Let’s leave out the parts which are not applicable to us. Resist the impulse to solve problems in panic mode. Return to the peace inside yourself, no matter how loud and scary the circumstances are.
This story will continue in the next blog