For Angelina Jolie, Mutilation Amounts to Prevention

by KRISTINE MATTIS

The world exploded with praise and awe when actress Angelina Jolie announced – via op-ed in The New York Times – that she had undergone double-mastectomy as a preventative measure after discovering that she possessed the mutant BRCA1 gene. A mutation to either the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 (both named for BReast CAncer) genes seems to confer an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in its carriers.

As the scourge of cancer has permeated the American landscape – one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetimes – diagnosis and treatment have become the sole allowable precautionary procedures. Every day we learn more about the myriad of known and probable human carcinogens saturating our built environment. In addition, scientists are continually revealing the long-term, intergenerational, and epigenetic health effects of exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals. Yet, on our insidiously poisoned planet, our insistence to continue with business as usual has led us to a form of collective insanity. We now choose bodily mutilation as a means of dealing with the diseases of our global industrial culture, rather than confronting the root causes.

In a 2003 study published in the esteemed academic journal Science, researchers found that among women carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, cancer “risks seemed to be increasing over time.”[i] In other words, those born before 1950 only had a 24% risk of developing breast cancer by age 50, while those born after 1950 had a 67% risk. These statistics indicate that the cancers are not at all caused by these genes; merely, these genes enable certain environmental factors to affect those who carry these genes. Moreover, these environmental triggers of cancer have become more prevalent in recent years. And though the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene carriers do individually possess a higher risk of cancer, they comprise less than 5% of breast cancer cases.[ii]

Consequently, inherited genetic traits cannot be deemed causal factors in the genesis of the vast majority of cancers. Furthermore, inherited predispositions or susceptibilities only exist in the sense that there must be an environmental exposure to elicit the genetic response. Remove the exposure and you remove the predisposition.

Clearly, the environment is the key piece to solving the cancer puzzle. Yet rather than disrupting the corporate capitalist consumer culture that incessantly disseminates its toxic pollutants throughout our land, water, and air, we choose the path of least resistance. Instead of removing carcinogens and other substances such as endocrine disrupting chemicals from our environment, we irradiate, poison, or mutilate our bodies to permit global industrial capitalism to continue unabated. And though at times these primitive procedures allow us a productive life after they take arduous and torturous tolls, other times they may just prolong or even hasten the inevitable.

As a victim of cancer myself, I comprehend the current need for treatment. But as one of the innumerable many who have lost loved ones to the illness, it is the lack of effort to truly reject this preventable harm to which I demur. Angelina Jolie’s choice of “prevention” – one that remains unaffordable and unavailable to most women who suffer at the hands of our corporate health insurance and medical system – is a rather extreme measure which has nonetheless become all too acceptable.

While I do not begrudge her personal decision, I begrudge a society that chooses to tolerate its women undergoing amputation and excision as routine procedures. As anthropogenic alterations to our world render it more and more inhospitable to life, will we continue to abide increasingly insane actions to maintain our existence, or will we ever relinquish our short-term superficial conveniences for long-term genuine life?

Kristine Mattis is a teacher, writer, scientist, activist, and agitator. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a schoolteacher. She and her partner blog when they can at www.rebelpleb.blogspot.com


[i] King, M.C., Marks, J.H., and Mandell, J.B. (2003). Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risks Due to Inherited Mutations in

BRCA1 and BRCA2. Science. 302(5645).

[ii] Pasche, B. (2010). Cancer Genetics. New York: Springer.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire