Skip to main content

This Feb. 14, 2012 file photo shows U.S. actress and director Angelina Jolie addressing the audience after the premiere of her movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Jolie says that she has had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she carried a gene that made it extremely likely she would get breast cancer.Amel Emric/The Associated Press

What if Angelina Jolie had elected to use her mind to ward off cancer instead of a preventative double mastectomy?

It's the type of question that smacks of quackery. Yet it's a premise suggested in an article titled, "Was Angelina Jolie 'Medically Hexed?' "

By yesterday afternoon, once word had spread that the Hollywood star and mother of six is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation that put her at high-risk of breast cancer, news sites and health-related blogs rushed to provide background information on the gene and how it significantly increases a woman's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, or both.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lissa Rankin, a contributing doctor at, an online destination for natural health and wellness, presented her own theory, which describes the power of the placebo effect in healing the body. Conversely, she introduces the unproven notion of a "nocebo effect" and it's potential to derail "natural self-healing mechanisms that kill cancer cells, fight infectious agents, fix broken proteins and influence how genes express themselves."

It's worth reading the article, if only to reach the part where she cites how a midwife delivered three girls on Friday the 13th (no mention of month or year) and "hexed" all of them with predictions of early death. None lived past 23 years old.

"If someone is 'hexed' with a negative diagnosis, whether it's a midwife saying you'll die before your 23rd birthday or your doctor telling you that you have an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer … fearful thoughts are likely to activate stress responses," she continues.

Which seems plausible enough; but it's a big leap to then suggest these responses can be a catalyst to cancer.

She credits the idea of "medical hexing" to integrative health guru Andrew Weil. A Google search turns up no direct link.

Optimism is healthy; no one is refuting that. Rankin also commends Jolie for going public with her decision and trusting this choice.

Still, in using the word "barbaric" to describe the mastectomy, she sensationalizes the procedure and discredits her authority. As does this point: "Once we start cutting off perfectly healthy body parts, what's to keep us from cutting out appendixes and gallbladders in all babies, since appendicitis and gallbladder disease could kill you?"

She should know better than to compare appendicitis to breast cancer.

Comments below the article seem divided on the message – as many deriding it as "irresponsible" as there are praising it as "brave."

What do you think? How crazy is the idea of "medical hexing?"