When Angelina Jolie announced that she carries a harmful BRCA mutation that will dramatically up her chances of developing cancer, I felt horrible for her, since I also carry and understand the burden of a BRCA mutation, but I also felt elated that she’d raised the profile of hereditary breast cancer and prophylactic mastectomy.
Then the “against-the-grain” news stories started rolling in. Many pieces missed a chance to inform the public about the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations, which can be passed on by both men and women, and account for some 5-10 percent of all breast cancer cases and all ovarian cancer cases although less than 1 percent of the population carries them. Instead, they chose to sensationalize Jolie’s choice to have a prophylactic mastectomy – a procedure that has been performed for women at high risk for breast cancer since at least the 1970s and is well-accepted as a valid treatment by doctors who specialize in BRCA patients.
How stupid do they think we are? It’s a major medical procedure, not a manicure. I can’t help but feel that the old insidious stereotype that women are irrational, easily panicked, susceptible to celebrity influence, and prone to emotional decisions underscores these worries about “unnecessary” mastectomies and a “panicked” horde of women refusing to come to terms with their cancer risk.