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Michael S. Sabel MD, FACS, Sonya Dal Cin PhD
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Although the increasing use of bilateral mastectomies is multifaceted, one source of influence may be the media, including coverage of celebrity breast cancer treatment. We examined trends in media reporting that might impact decision making among women with breast cancer.
We performed searches of two comprehensive online databases for articles from major U.S. print publications mentioning celebrities and terms related to the word “breast” and terms related to cancer treatment. Automated analysis using custom-created dictionaries was used to determine word frequencies over time. An analysis of net media tone was conducted using Lexicoder Sentiment Dictionaries.
Celebrity breast cancer media reports significantly increased since 2004 (p < .05). Dramatic increases in bilateral mastectomy articles occurred in 2008–2009, with an increase in net positive tone. The surgical treatment was significantly more likely to be mentioned when a celebrity had bilateral mastectomies than unilateral mastectomy or breast conservation (44.8 vs 26.1 %, p < .001). The majority (60 %) of articles on celebrities undergoing bilateral mastectomy for cancer had no mention of genetics, family history, or risk.
Media reports of celebrity breast cancer present a bias toward bilateral mastectomies in both frequency and tone. This may sway public opinion, particularly when factors such as risk and genetics are excluded. Surgeons need to work with the media to improve cancer reporting and identify methods to better educate patients prior to surgical consultations.
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