Following the announcement of actress Angelina Jolie’s prophylactic bilateral mastectomies and subsequent prophylactic oophorectomy, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in BRCA testing and prophylactic surgery.
To review current medical literature on the benefits of prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy among BRCA-positive women and its permissibility under Jewish law.
Recent literature suggests that in BRCA-positive women who undergo prophylactic oophorectomy the risk of dying of breast cancer is reduced by 90%, the risk of dying of ovarian cancer is reduced by 95%, and the risk of dying of any cause is reduced by 77%. The risk of breast cancer is further reduced by prophylactic mastectomy. Prophylactic oophorectomy and prophylactic mastectomy pose several challenges within Jewish law that call into question the permissibility of surgery, including mutilation of a healthy organ, termination of fertility, self-wounding, and castration. A growing number of Jewish legal scholars have found grounds to permit prophylactic surgery among BRCA carriers, with some even obligating prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy.