This week’s celebrity health health advocacy headlines have been dominated by the sensational NY Times article by Angelina Jolie going public after her prophylactic double mastectomy and her BRCA1 gene mutation. When famous people are forced to deal with difficult medical decisions, as Ms. Jolie certainly had to face, their decisions and consequences are influential to others in similar situations. This has positive and potentially negative public health consequences. The public may assume that since these celebrities have nearly unlimited access to information and expert advice, and the cost of care is not a major factor for them, that their decisions and care must be the best choices for anyone in similar or related situations.
As the physician husband of a woman with ovarian cancer who has a BRCA2 gene mutation I’ve thought a bit about how to express my feelings as a physician and as one who loves and cares for a woman in a similar situation, and have been unable to put my feelings and opinions in writing. I’ve read several editorial pieces about the topic and none really addressed the issues I want to highlight. Then today I saw an article by Dr. Kenny Lin. Dr. Lin is one of the thought leaders in public health, a former member of the USPSTF and an outspoken advocate of public health policy that is thoroughly researched and based on the best evidence available. In his article he talks about the aftereffects of the Katie Couric crusade to promote colonoscopy for screening of colorectal cancer after her husband’s death from that disease, and he addresses some of the difficult issues surrounding BRCA genetic testing. I found his article better than anything I could write, and urge you to see his discussion:
Breast Cancer and the Angelina Jolie Effect
Published at his blog Common Sense Family Doctor on May 15, 2013
“There is nothing like a celebrity to call attention to a preventable disease, especially if that disease is cancer. …” This is well worth the read. See the rest of his article.
One issue he did not discuss is the patent law surrounding the BRCA gene testing. If you are interested see a previous post: BRCA Gene Patent