Test for evidence of the ‘Angelina Effect’ comes back negative

At one busy, academically affiliated breast center in the Northeast U.S., the so-called “Angelina Jolie Effect”—women being motivated by the celebrity to get screened for breast cancer—isn’t a thing.

That’s the conclusion of Hershey Medical Center researchers led by Marco Huesch, PhD, who compared weekly utilization at Penn State Health’s multisite breast center over the two years prior to Jolie’s going public with her decision in May of 2013 and over the two years following.

Their findings were published online June 8 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The team looked at nearly 50,000 consecutive screening mammograms performed between May 16, 2011, and May 16, 2015. They used interrupted time series statistical models and graphical methods on utilization data to understand utilization changes before and after Jolie’s announcement, according to the study abstract.

The researchers found no changes in screening utilization after Jolie publicized her decision to undergo prophylactic bilateral (aka “preventive double”) mastectomy.

Further, the authors report, analytical models and statistical tests didn’t turn up a step-change increase or acceleration of utilization around the time of Jolie’s headline-grabbing New York Times op-ed, which spawned an even higher-profile Time cover story and heavy subsequent coverage.

Of interest, though, their analyses did show a flattening of utilization in the middle of 2014.

The Penn State team’s findings are consistent with those of earlier research, published in JAMA Oncology in 2016, in which the authors didn’t rule out the possible presence of a mild celebrity effect—but noted that most women in their sample were insured, educated and treated at cancer centers where high-quality genetic testing and counseling were readily available.

At least one study, albeit smaller and preliminary, found the Angelina Effect to be quite real.

For their part, Huesch et al. found no such effect at their institution.

“In our well-powered analysis in a large regional breast imaging center,” they write, “we found no support for the hypothesis that this celebrity news drove increased screening.”