We’ve recently started writing articles for Al Jazeera online – go to their website to read the whole of this piece exploring whether celebrity cancer stories in the media are a help or hindrance to communicating clear information about cancer.
Over the past month or so we’ve seen a couple of big celebrity cancer stories hitting the international headlines. In May, actress Angelina Jolie announced that she had undergone a double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutated gene that greatly increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
And at the beginning of June, actor Michael Douglas announced that giving oral sex had apparently caused his throat cancer, and – even more controversially – that it could also help cure the disease.
As a media spokesperson for Cancer Research UK, I’m often called on for radio and TV interviews when big stories break. Cancer is a disease that touches us all, whether it’s ourselves or our loved ones who are affected by it, and there’s a huge public interest in possible causes, prevention and cures. But while celebrity stories can help to raise awareness of different cancers, they can also promote confusing, unclear or even misleading information.
In the case of Angelina Jolie, the story started with her brave article in the New York Times, outlining the genetic cancer risk she was facing and her decision to have preventive surgery. Her mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56, and genetic testing revealed that Jolie carried an inherited fault in a gene called BRCA1, putting her chances of developing breast cancer at 87 percent.