Celebrities Talking About Breast Cancer Paves The Way For Prevention

by Jill H

Remember how we used to learn about breast cancer from commercials with cheesy background music, featuring celebrities who'd never had cancer but wanted to "speak out"?

That doesn't work so well anymore – we all have DVRs, and we've smartened up – now we mute commercial breaks.

I ran Susan G. Komen's Race For the Cure with my mom when I was a teenager, but it never inspired me to check for lumps in the shower.

Maybe it should have, but for some reason, it just didn't click.

Those pink ribbons people like to wear during Breast Cancer Awareness Month are a great idea, especially if you have a loved with one cancer.

But how many times did you see one and think, "Darn, I gotta go get checked out? When did I last perform a breast self-exam?"

Breast cancer, and really any disease, is terrifying. We try to keep it in the back of our mind. Until it hits us, hard and fast, because someone we love is diagnosed. Or we are.

The reality is, prevention is rarely made a priority because the commercials, the races and the pink ribbons don't always give us the sense of urgency we need to actually take action.

When you're under 40, mammograms are probably far from your mind.

Lately, celebrities have spoken out, using their own personal struggles with breast cancer as a force for change.

Instead of keeping quiet, women like Giuliana Rancic, Angelina Jolie, Rita Wilson and Taylor Swift's mother have decided to utilize social and mainstream media as weapons in the battle for prevention. And we can only applaud them for it.

Actress Rita Wilson, married to Tom Hanks, just announced she'd undergone a "bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma."

This essentially means both of her breasts were removed and surgically reconstructed after she was diagnosed with the second most common type of breast cancer.

In addition to speaking with media outlets, Wilson posted about the news on Facebook and inspired an outpouring of support on Twitter.

Her statement emphasized she is expected to make a full recovery because her cancer was caught early, after she got a second opinion from a doctor.

Wilson is not alone in sharing her very personal experience.

Beauty queen Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy as well, as a result of genetic testing for breast cancer indicating she tested positive for a cancer-causing genetic mutation.

Her mother had died from breast cancer, and Angelina wisely pursued a genetic test.

Taylor Swift went public via Twitter and Tumblr to announce her mom's cancer diagnosis. While she has not specified the type of cancer, the news about her mother saturated social media.

The hashtag "#PrayforMommaSwift" was trending, even among Swift's very young demographic.

Before any of these celebrities went public, Giuliana Rancic spent extensive time talking about prevention, diagnosis and the experience of having breast cancer on her E! television show, "Giuliana & Bill."

It's easy to brush all of this attention off. The celebrities who have gone public with their diagnoses, including Christina Applegate, Sheryl Crow, Kylie Minogue and ABC reporter Robin Roberts, are older than many of the people on Twitter sharing the latest celebrity news. But this doesn't mean young people can't get breast cancer.

Regardless of age, attention to the issue may help all Millennials be more vigilant, as we do get older.

The focus on breast cancer in social media, especially thanks to celebrities who have lots of followers, can help save lives.

In just a few tweets or headlines, millions of people learn getting a second opinion, like Kylie Minogue did, can be vital.

They discover early detection may prevent cancer from becoming deadly, as it did in Rita Wilson's case.

Young women who've never even thought about breast cancer before may see it affect Taylor Swift and contemplate how it could impact them.

It seems like celebrities are already making a difference in people's lives.

When Angelina went public about her double mastectomy and her genetic testing, referrals to family health clinics for genetic tests of breast cancer risk doubled. It was powerful.

For individuals at a high risk of developing breast cancer, a double mastectomy can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 90 percent.

Kylie Minogue's diagnosis led to a 40 percent increase in breast screenings in Australia.

There's something urgent and powerful about individuals with cancer coming forward, not in a carefully crafted ad, but in their own words on a show or website.

Don't get me wrong: The races to raise money are important. So is something as simple as wearing a pink ribbon to remind people to donate to the cause and to get mammograms.

But research into this "Angelina Effect" tells us celebrities have the power to do more and to make a meaningful, lasting impact.

It might be a sad truth that it takes celebrities to garner sufficient attention to have a conversation about cancer, but it's a truth nevertheless.

Frankly, the fact that they're willing to talk about a procedure that removes their breasts is brave and extremely personal.

It's a testament to the lengths they're willing to go to emphasize the importance of early detection.

So I say we're lucky to be part of the communication generation, where social media sites spread the conversation wide and far.

It means we can hear about these issues, have conversations about them (even if they are just words of support like "#PrayforMommaSwift”) and hopefully internalize the celebrities' messages.

Maybe we'll see incidents of breast cancer diminish as our generation ages.

Maybe we'll be better about getting mammograms, checking for lumps and undergoing genetic testing.

It may have taken celebrities' encouragement to get the ball rolling, but maybe that doesn't matter.

Citations: Rita Wilson Has Breast Cancer Undergoes Double Mastectomy and Reconstructive Surgery (People Magazine), Celebrities React to Rita Wilsons Breast Cancer Reveal (ET Online ), Taylor Swift Reveals Mother Andrea Swift Has Cancer In Heartbreaking Tumblr Post (The Huffington Post), Breast Cancer in Young Women (WebMD), Kylie Minogues Cancer Was Misdiagnosed (The Telegraph), The Angelina Jolie effect how high celebrity profile can have a major impact on provision of cancer related services (BioMed Central Ltd.), The Angeline Jolie effect Her mastectomy revelation doubled NHS breast cancer testing referrals (The Independent)