It’s Not Just in Their Heads Risk, Sexism, and Overtreatment in the Contralateral Prophylactic Mastectomy Controversy

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Kelly Pender


Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) is the removal of both breasts when one is affected by cancer. Researchers and journalists typically attribute increased use of this controversial procedure to patient misunderstanding of breast cancer risk. Thus, efforts to curb CPM use focus on better patient education. I argue that such efforts are potentially ineffective insofar as they fail to recognize that risk isn’t just something that patients know but also something that they do, and that how they do it affects their healthcare decisions. I further argue that this failure can lead to impaired communication about CPM by perpetuating sexist stereotypes of women as too emotional to make good decisions. To improve communication, then, I draw on screening guidelines and public discourse about CPM to show how patients do breast cancer risk, arguing that they often experience a kind of overtreatment that makes CPM an effective, if unconventional, treatment choice.

Article Details

Persuasion Briefs
Author Biography

Kelly Pender, Virginia Tech University

Kelly Pender is an associate professor in the English department at Virginia Tech.


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