Do celebrity endorsements matter? Observational study of BRCA gene testing and mastectomy rates after Angelina Jolie’s New York Times editorial

Angelina Jolie’s op-ed on her decision to undergo BRCA testing and, because of her results, a preventive double mastectomy and, later, removal of her fallopian tubes and ovaries, led to increased BRCA testing rates, but might not have gotten to the more at-risk subpopulations, according to a new study appearing in the BMJ. Researchers from Harvard Medical School examined a database of insurance claims for women between the ages of 18 and 64 to gauge changes in BRCA testing before and after Jolie’s 2013 op-ed appeared in the New York Times. Within about two weeks of its publication, the researchers noted a 64 percent relative increase in testing, or about an extra 4,500 BRCA tests and $13.5 million spent. They note that testing remained high for the rest of 2013. However, they did not uncover an increase in mastectomies within 60 days of the op-ed’s publication. Celebrity announcements like Jolie’s can raise awareness and reach a broad audience, though “their ability to target subpopulations of interest may be limited.”