Before 1970, mastectomy was the unquestioned answer for women diagnosed with the disease. Then a 50-year-old writer who had read a magazine article challenged the conventional wisdom.
In McCalls Rosmund learned from a column by Dr. William Nolen about the pioneering work of a Cleveland surgeon who performed lumpectomies, removing only the affected tissue and treating surrounding areas with radiation and chemotherapy.
When she refused to have her breasts removed, Rosmund’s doctor told her she would be “dead within three weeks.” She went to Cleveland, wrote an article about her experience and then a book. Rosmund died in 1997 at the age of 75; her breast cancer never recurred and the treatment she publicized became the standard for women.
Now in the age of advanced genetics, Jolie at 37 tells the world about her decision to undergo a preemptive double mastectomy after being told that she had “an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer” to avert the fate of her mother who died at 56.
Jolie’s choice and her openness about it are in the brave tradition of Betty Ford, who underwent surgery as First Lady and related all the details to encourage other women to seek detection and treatment.
But now the actress’ OpEd about her experience in the New York Times elicits concerns in the newspaper the following day:
“But some doctors also expressed worry that her disclosure could be misinterpreted by other women, fueling the trend toward mastectomies that are not medically necessary for many early-stage breast cancers. In recent years, doctors have reported a virtual epidemic of preventive mastectomies among women who have cancer in one breast and decide to remove the healthy one as well, even though they do not have genetic mutations that increase their risk and their odds of a second breast cancer are very low.”
On a subject affecting so many lives and families, it’s crucial to go beyond the headlines and make fully informed choices. Browsing the news is not enough.