Cancer information seeking in the digital age: Effects of angelina jolie's prophylactic mastectomy announcement

Seth M. Noar, Benjamin M. Althouse, John W. Ayers, Diane B. Francis, Kurt M. Ribisl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Objective. This study used digital surveillance to examine the impact of Angelina Jolie's prophylactic mastectomy announcement on cancer information seeking.

Methods. We analyzed 4 categories of breast cancer-related Internet search queries from 2010 to 2013 in the United States.

Results. Compared with the preceding 6 weeks, general information queries were 112% (95% confidence interval [CI], 79-146) higher the day of the announcement and remained 35% (95% CI, 22-49) higher over the week after the editorial. Risk assessment queries were 165% (95% CI, 110-222) higher the day of the announcement and 52% (95% CI, 31-75) higher across the week. Genetics and treatment queries showed little volume before the announcement but increased 2154% (95% CI, 1550-7076) and 9900% (95% CI, 3196-1,064,000) the day of, respectively, and remained higher across the week (812% [95% CI, 402-3913] and 2625% [95% CI, 551-317,000]). All query categories returned to normal volumes by the beginning of the second week.

Conclusion. Jolie's unique announcement spurred significant information seeking about breast cancer genetic testing and treatment procedures, although the surge in queries returned to preannouncement levels after 1 week. Future research should apply digital methods to advance our understanding of cancer information seeking in the digital age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-21
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support for this study was provided by a grant from University Cancer Research Fund and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The funding agreement ensured the authors’ independence in designing the study, interpreting the data, writing, and publishing the report. The following author(s) are employed by the sponsor: Seth M. Noar and Kurt M. Ribisl. Benjamin Althouse and John Ayers share an equity stake in a consulting group, Directing Medicine, which helps others implement some of the ideas embodied in this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Author(s).


  • breast cancer
  • cancer communication
  • cancer information seeking
  • digital surveillance
  • genetic testing
  • prophylactic mastectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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