Pandora's DNAWould you cut out your healthy breasts and ovaries if you thought it might save your life? That’s not a theoretical question for journalist Lizzie Stark’s relatives, who grapple with the horrific legacy of cancer built into the family DNA, a BRCA mutation that has robbed most of her female relatives of breasts, ovaries, peace of mind, or life itself.

In Pandora’s DNA, Stark uses her family’s experience to frame a larger story about the so-called breast cancer genes, exploring the morass of legal quandaries, scientific developments, medical breakthroughs, and ethical concerns that surround the BRCA mutations, from the troubling history of prophylactic surgery and the storied origins of the boob job to the landmark lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, which held patents on the BRCA genes every human carries in their body until the Supreme Court overturned them in 2013. Although a genetic test for cancer risk may sound like the height of scientific development, the treatment remains crude and barbaric. Through her own experience, Stark shows what it’s like to live in a brave new world where gazing into a crystal ball of genetics has many unintended consequences.

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Download the complete bibliography for the book.

Advance Praise for Pandora’s DNA

“An extraordinary book, written with passion and compassion, Pandora’s DNA illuminates a new world of science and medicine.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, oncologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

“Lizzie Stark writes with intelligence, wit, and bracing honesty about the wrenching ambiguities of genetic medicine.” —Dan Fagin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

“Stunning. I couldn’t put this book down. A must-read for any woman affected by this disease to learn her true risk, and especially for those women who believe they are unaffected by breast cancer. Lizzie Stark beautifully weaves her family’s personal narrative with untold, fascinating historic reporting. The emotional impact is a wallop. Although there is unbelievable sadness and tragedy in her family experiences, Lizzie’s story gives hope for a different future. Lizzie is my new hero.” —Geralyn Lucas, nineteen-year breast cancer survivor and author of Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy and Then Came Life: Living with Courage, Spirit and Gratitude After Breast Cancer


Read an excerpt adapted from “Watchful Waiting” (chapter 6) of Pandora’s DNA, about the trouble with surveillance for BRCA patients in The New Republic.

Read an excerpt adapted from “A Tale of Too Many Mastectomies” (chapter 7), about a totally death metal 1811 mastectomy and how women’s lib affected breast cancer treatment in Jezebel.

“Was My Mastectomy a Betrayal of Feminism?” — My op-ed on how my mastectomy and reconstruction impacted my feminism and sense of self in The Washington Post

Critical Praise for Pandora’s DNA

“With incisive wit and a reporter’s poke at the jugular, Stark delivers the goods on this disease that though now much discussed still creates anguish in most of us. For every collection.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“The book is a must-read for women questioning whether to be tested for the BRCA mutations and for women considering their options after testing positive. A gutsy, deeply revealing account that more than fulfills the promise of the subtitle.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With her remarkable memoir, Stark gives us medical history and personal testament that intelligently balances hard-edged science with boundless hope.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Stark writes stylishly and entertainingly about an an all-too common experience and in-the-news topic.” —Booklist

“Never once does she let the reader down…offer[s] good insight into both breast cancer patients and their oncologists.” —The ASCO Post

One of five “Books about cancer that everyone should read.” —American Association for the Advancement of Science

“This text is a must read for anyone interested in the history of medical research, for those interested in the intersection of science/medicine and public policy, and for anyone concerned about health issues that, while not solely limited to women, are situated most frequently in the female body.” —

Lizzie Stark