Advocacy for preventative surgeries promotes bodily autonomy for women

When faced with the harsh uncertainties that are a part of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, more often than ever before women have begun taking matters of their health into their own hands. 

Electing to undergo preventative surgeries has become not only a common occurrence for women struggling with a variety of health issues, but it has become something numerous celebrities have openly advocated.  

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found, using research from 13 states representing a quarter of the population, that the total rate of mastectomies increased by 36 percent from 2005 to 2013. While this increase may seem shocking, even more interestingly, the number of instances of breast cancer remained the same throughout those years, according to NPR. 

In fact, studies have shown that the number of women who have elected to have preventative bilateral mastectomies has doubled. NPR reported that, “in 2005, about two women per 100,000 without a cancer diagnosis chose the surgery, while that rate rose to 4.4 women per 100,000 in 2013.” 

This promotion of preventative surgeries can, in part, be attributed to actress Angelina Jolie, who in 2013 had a preventative double mastectomy. In 2015, Jolie had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, according to The New York Times

Jolie, who has penned two editorials on the topic for The New York Times, has been very direct about the course of action she has chosen to take, writing “a simple blood test had revealed that I carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. It gave me an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer,” according to The New York Times

Jolie has been a strong advocate for preventative surgeries, citing their effectiveness for women who have a family history of illnesses. Jolie openly educates on the topic: “I lost my mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer. I wanted other women at risk to know about the options,” according to The New York Times

Jolie isn’t the only well-known woman using her platform to express the validity of preventative surgeries. Actress and creator of the HBO series “Girls” Lena Dunham penned an essay in Vogue where she discussed her decision to remove her uterus and cervix, in hopes of ending the chronic pain she has endured for years from endometriosis. 

Dunham similarly promotes the importance of women choosing for themselves whether a surgery like such is necessary. 

“I know that a hysterectomy isn’t the right choice for everyone, that it’s not a guarantee that this pain will disappear, and that you are performing it due to your deeply held, essential and—to my mind—feminist belief that women should be able to make a choice about how they want to spend their childbearing years,” according to Dunham’s piece in Vogue. 

Even though her motherly instincts ring in clearly, Dunham knew having surgery was the right choice. 

“I wanted that stomach. I wanted to know what nine months of complete togetherness could feel like. I was meant for the job, but I didn’t pass the interview. And that’s OK. It really is,” according to Vogue.

Making the decision to have a preventative surgery is a choice that every woman who is affected should make for herself; however, open discussion of the topic and highlighting that it is a strong alternative are equally as important. 

“Life comes with many challenges,” Jolie wrote in The New York Times. “The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”