ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Defective' Genes, Breast Cancer, and Preventive Mastectomy

In mid-May there appeared an article, "My Medical Choice", by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie on her decision to minimise her risk of getting breast cancer by having a preventive double mastectomy - removal of both breasts - so that she does not have cancer. She took this decision as her BRCA genes were "faulty", which increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. She chose to write about this decision so that other women could make informed choices. The question is, did she herself have all the information? How well informed are we all really?

Jolie’s (2013) decision to have a mastectomy to reduce the risk of breast cancer epitomises, in an extreme fashion, the reductionist approach to biology, and the derivative biomedical view of disease causation. Such actions of celebrities like Jolie privilege cancer, as well as the dominant biological determinist ideology – that of attributing disease and bodily dysfunction to simple unitary causes, in this case the presence of certain genes.

An article that appeared on the same day as Jolie’s exemplifies this (Kannan 2013). This report is hopeful that,

In India, however, struggling to cope with spreading awareness of detecting cancer early, it is quite likely that the Hollywood star has actually brought the concept of preventive mastectomies into the consciousness of substantive members of the public. BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing itself is not common in the country (ibid).

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