Angelina Jolie's faulty gene: newspaper coverage of a celebrity's preventive bilateral mastectomy in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom

Genet Med. 2014 Jul;16(7):522-8. doi: 10.1038/gim.2013.199. Epub 2013 Dec 19.


Purpose: This study investigates the portrayal of Angelina Jolie's preventive bilateral mastectomy in the news media. Content analysis of print news was conducted to identify major frames used in press coverage, the overall tone of discussions, how journalists report broader questions about BRCA1/2 testing and hereditary breast/ovarian cancer, and whether they raise concerns about the impact of celebrities on patients' choices and public opinion.

Methods: The Factiva database was used to collect publications on Jolie's preventive mastectomy in elite newspapers in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The data set consisted of 103 newspaper articles published in the first month of media coverage.

Results: The results show that although the press discussed key issues surrounding predictive genetic testing and preventive options for women at high risk of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer, important medical information about the rarity of Jolie's condition was not communicated to the public.

Conclusion: The results highlight the media's overwhelmingly positive slant toward Jolie's mastectomy, while overlooking the relative rarity of her situation, the challenges of "celebrity medicine," and how celebrities influence people's medical decisions. Future research is required to investigate whether the media hype has influenced demand and use of BRCA1/2 testing and preventive mastectomies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • BRCA1 Protein / genetics
  • BRCA2 Protein / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Canada
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Famous Persons*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Testing / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Mastectomy*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Newspapers as Topic*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Primary Prevention*
  • Public Opinion
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • BRCA1 Protein
  • BRCA1 protein, human
  • BRCA2 Protein
  • BRCA2 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Breast Cancer, Familial