20 April 2016

I’ve written about the “celebrity effect” before –  misinformation disseminated by public features that subsequently influences patient decision making.

A new study published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology notes that the celebrity effect extends to media coverage as well. The authors evaluated media coverage of celebrity breast cancer stories. They found that since 2004, celebrity breast cancer media reports have significantly increased, and they noted a dramatic increase in bilateral mastectomy articles between 2008-2009, along with an increase in positive tone. The surgical treatment was more likely to be mentioned when a celebrity underwent bilateral mastectomy compared to unilateral mastectomy or breast conservation. The majority of articles reporting on bilateral mastectomy did not mention genetic factors, family history, or risk.

It is important for patients to realize that just because it’s reported in the news, doesn’t mean it’s factually correct. In addition, when it comes to reporting on medical issues and treatments in celebrities, crucial facts are often missing from the conversation. The purpose of these stories is to attract attention rather than educate – a public figure undergoing a bilateral mastectomy is a dramatic story. For an individual patient, the decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy may be a reasonable one. However it is important to be aware that that the “celebrity effect” on the part of the celebrity as well as the media may lead to an increase in misinformation and erroneous assumptions about treatment options and potential complications.

Additional Reading: Science Daily