'That's like chopping off a finger because you're afraid it might get broken': Disease and illness in women's views of prophylactic mastectomy

Nancy Press, Susan Reynolds, Linda Pinsky, Vinaya Murthy, Michael Leo, Wylie Burke

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    14 Scopus citations


    While data are accumulating on the efficacy of prophylactic mastectomy as a means to reduce breast cancer risk in high risk women, the effectiveness of the procedure depends on women's interest in undergoing the procedure. We report on women's responses to this surgical option as a prevention tool. Data derive from a multi-method study of women's interest in and understandings about genetic testing for breast cancer susceptibility. The sample comprises 246 women of varying ethnicities and familial breast cancer risk from Seattle, USA. In this paper, quantitative data are presented on the sociodemographic and risk perception correlates of degree of interest in taking a genetic test for breast cancer if prophylactic mastectomy were the only treatment option. In addition, we report results of a content analysis of women's open-ended responses to the question of whether and why they could imagine undergoing prophylactic mastectomy. Our analysis of these data benefits from a central distinction in medical anthropology between the concepts of illness and disease. We suggest that while prophylactic mastectomy may prevent the "disease" of breast cancer, it may be of little interest to women who see this surgery as itself mimicking the "illness" of breast cancer.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1106-1117
    Number of pages12
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sep 2005



    • Breast cancer
    • Disease and illness
    • Genetic susceptibility
    • Prophylactic mastectomy
    • USA

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
    • Social Psychology
    • Development
    • Health(social science)

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