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Preventive Strikes

, 344 pages

11 b&w illus.

December 2009



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Preventive Strikes

Women, Precancer, and Prophylactic Surgery

Winner, 2011 Best Book in the History of Medicine, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health

Modern scientific tools can identify a genetic predisposition to cancer before any disease is detectable. Some women will never develop breast or ovarian cancer, but they nevertheless must decide, as a result of genetic testing, whether to have their breasts and ovaries removed to avoid the possibility of disease. The striking contrast between the sophistication of diagnosis and the crudeness of preventive surgery forms the basis of historian Ilana Löwy’s important study.

Löwy traces the history of prophylactic amputations through a century of preventive treatment and back to a long tradition of surgical management of gynecological problems. In the early twentieth century, surgeons came to believe that removing precancerous lesions—a term difficult to define even today—averted the danger of malignancy. This practice, Löwy finds, later led to surgical interventions for women with a hereditary predisposition to cancer but no detectable disease.

Richly detailed stories of patients and surgeons in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom allow Löwy to compare the evolution of medical thought and practice—and personal choice—in these different cultures.

Preventive Strikes aims to improve our understanding of professional, social, and cultural responses to cancer in the twenty-first century and to inform our reflections about how values are incorporated into routine medical practices.Ilana Löwy

Ilana Löwy is a senior researcher at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Science.

"Splendid... This is a major study for doctors and historians alike."

"Elegantly captures the history of the medicine and the politics, showing how they are interlinked."

"A riveting and tragic story."

"A valuable contribution to the historical scholarship on risk, surgery and cancer, and one can only wish that it will influence current discussions around the topic."

" Preventive Strikes, the work of a gifted scholar, is an ambitious contribution to cancer history."

"Löwy makes very clear the price that patients continue to pay for medicine's ignorance of the lessons of its history. She has done us all a service."

"Penetrating, witty... A major study for doctors and historians alike."

" Preventive Strikes: Women, Precancer, and Prophylactic Surgery elegantly captures the history of the medicine and the politics."

"This book deserves a broad audience beyond the historians of medicine and health policy to which it is most clearly addressed... The questions [Löwy] tackles are of considerable importance both to the history of twentieth-century medicine and to contemporary medical policy."

"Clearly of relevance to scholars in a number of fields, certainly beyond that of medical history."

"Point[s] to a much deeper understanding of the complex interdependencies that exist between womens' bodies, medicine, technologies, policy makers, health activists, the health industry, and the press... clearly of relevance to scholars in a number of fields, certainly beyond that of medical history."

"Ambitious, insightful, and invaluable."

"This is how contemporary history of medicine—and the role of science in medicine—should be written."

" Preventive Strikes provides an invaluable contribution to ongoing discussions about preventive screening tests by offering provocative arguments about their origins and surprising history."

"Preventive Strikes offers a major contribution to critical cancer studies and the histories Löwy traces throughout this book are significant to all interested in medicine, biology, biomedicine, history of science and genetics, and gender and health."

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