Bodies for Profit

Many women at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer are choosing to undergo surgery as a precautionary measure to decrease their cancer risk, according to a report in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & PreventionWomen who had a biopsy after undergoing risk evaluation were twice as likely to choose a risk-reducing mastectomy. Forty percent of the women who were mutation carriers underwent bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy; 45 percent had bilateral risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy (surgical removal of ovaries). Most of the women, specifically those aged 35 to 45 years, opted for surgery within the first two years after the genetic mutation test, but some did not make a decision until seven years later.

This is the consequence of women who have participated in genetic counseling, testing and management programs. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers have a very high lifetime risk of cancer, according to these counseling teams. These women face a 50 to 85 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer, and mastectomy is currently the most effective prevention method available according to their belief system. Thus researchers conclude that, “Careful risk counseling does appear to influence women’s decision for surgery although the effect is not immediate.”