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Duly Noted

Thursday, May 16, 2013, 2:42 pm

Boobs React to Angelina Jolie’s Preventive Mastectomy

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Jolie at a 2010 ComicCon panel for the movie Salt. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)  

Natural News is a moral and intellectual cesspool, but founder Mike Adams may have hit a new low with his vitriolic attack on actress Angelina Jolie for undergoing a preventive double mastectomy and writing about her decision in the New York Times.

Natural News is truly the busy crank’s home on the web, a one-stop-shop for medical quackery, conspiracy theories and misogyny. Adams’ attack on Jolie combines all of the above. He asserts that Jolie has been duped by the medical establishment and feminism into “maiming her body” with surgerysurgery that was completely unnecessary, given that cancer can be easily prevented by buying Adams’ “New Cancer Solutions” CD set for just $39.95. Given Adams’ record of kooky allegations, I was surprised he didn’t characterize Jolie’s mastectomy as a false flag attack.

Adams fumes that Jolie “has been tricked into believing that genetic code is some sort of absolute blueprint to disease expression.” In fact, as Jolie pointed out in her op-ed, she has been reliably informed that she has an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s a very high risk.

Jolie carries a mutation of the BRCA tumor-suppressor gene, which puts her at increased risk of early and invasive breast and ovarian cancers. After losing her mother to ovarian cancer, Jolie elected to have her breasts removed and reconstructed.

About 12 percent of American women will eventually develop breast cancer. By contrast about 60 percent of women with BRCA mutations will develop the disease. And BCRA status isn’t the only factor for breast cancer. Jolie may have additional risk factors that push her estimated risk even higher.

The best part is where Mike Adams, dude on the internet, presumes to lecture Angelina Jolie, internationally renowned sex goddess/earth mother, on how to be a real woman:

Oh, what a mess Jolie has made of herself. She has maimed her own body with no medical justification whatsoever, then celebrated this horrible disfiguration through some sort of twisted perception of what womanhood really is. Being an empowered woman doesn't mean cutting off your breasts and aborting live babies -- even though both of these things are often celebrated by delusional women's groups. Being an empowered woman means protecting your health, your body and your womanhood by honoring and respecting your body, not maiming it.

The vicious personal attacks on Jolie weren’t confined to the right wing. On the left-wing site Counterpunch, Ruth Fowler excoriated Jolie for something or other. I’m still trying to piece together an argument out of that screed, but I can tell the author’s really mad. As near as I can tell, Fowler’s angry because the BRCA test is too expensive for all American women to benefit from its life-saving guidance, or because it’s worthless, or both.

Fowler dismisses Jolie’s attempts to raise awareness about preventive mastectomies on the grounds that 56 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer get a mastectomy. Evidently, Fowler’s unclear on the difference between prevention and treatment. Jolie got a preventive mastectomy in the hopes of avoiding breast cancer. That option’s still relatively new and largely unknown to laypeople.

Fowler is right to point out that the Jolie’s surgery is out of reach for most American women, including many with private insurance. The BRCA testing costs thousands of dollars, and mastectomy and reconstruction cost even more, expenses that aren’t necessarily covered by insurance. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness. Women can’t lobby for change until they know that other options exist. Would Fowler prefer that BRCA testing and preventive mastectomy remain closely guarded secrets of the 1%?

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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