Modern scientific tools can identify a genetic predisposition to cancer before any disease is detectable. Some women will never develop breast or ovarian cancer, but they nevertheless must decide, as a result of genetic testing, whether to have their breasts and ovaries removed to avoid the possibility of disease. The striking contrast between the sophistication of diagnosis and the crudeness of preventive surgery forms the basis of historian Ilana Löwy’s important study.
Löwy traces the history of prophylactic amputations through a century of preventive treatment and back to a long tradition of surgical management of gynecological problems. In the early twentieth century, surgeons came to believe that removing precancerous lesions—a term difficult to define even today—averted the danger of malignancy. This practice, Löwy finds, later led to surgical interventions for women with a hereditary predisposition to cancer but no detectable disease.
Richly detailed stories of patients and surgeons in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom allow Löwy to compare the evolution of medical thought and practice—and personal choice—in these different cultures.
Preventive Strikes aims to improve our understanding of professional, social, and cultural responses to cancer in the twenty-first century and to inform our reflections about how values are incorporated into routine medical practices.