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This preliminary study provides insight into the meaning of prophylactic surgery as a risk management strategy for women who have a familial risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Data were collected during observations of genetic consultations and in semi-structured interviews with 41 women following their attendance at genetic counselling. The option of prophylactic surgery was raised in 29 consultations and discussed in 35 of the post-clinic interviews. Fifteen women said they would consider having an oophorectomy in the future and nine said they would consider having a mastectomy. The implications of undergoing oophorectomy and mastectomy were discussed during the post-clinic interviews. Prophylactic surgery was described by the counsellees as providing individuals with a means to (a) fulfil their obligations to other family members and (b) reduce risk and contain their fear of cancer. The costs of this form of risk management, were described as: (a) compromising social obligations; (b) upsetting the natural balance of the body; (c) not offering protection from cancer; (d) operative and post-operative complications; (e) the onset of menopause (f) the effects on body image, gender and personal identity and (g) potential effects on sexual relationships.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





263 - 275


Centre for Family Research, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge, UK.


Humans, Neoplasms, Ovariectomy, Mastectomy, Surgical Procedures, Elective, Risk Assessment, Follow-Up Studies, Gender Identity, Body Image, Decision Making, Interview, Psychological, Menopause, Observation, Cost of Illness, Social Responsibility, Adult, Middle Aged, Family Health, Women's Health, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, England, Female, Patient Education as Topic