When Angelina Jolie came out last month and announced her double mastectomy in a heartfelt New York Times piece, the reaction was swift and unsurprising. Jolie made the cover of People. Time, too, adorned its issue with her image and the tagline “The Angelina Effect.”

Angelina provides an interesting look into how the famous can drive conversations about health. She is a celebrity of status, and her story is both dramatic and complicated. Her mastectomy followed the BRCA genetic test, designed for women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, that turns up issues in only a small group of women. The lesson of Angelina’s experience is unquestionably important, but it isn’t universally applicable.

The Angelina news broke as we were completing our Social Oncology Project 2013 report, which went live last week and looks at online conversations about cancer from several different viewpoints.

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