Mastectomies have been performed for over 500 years – yet we still can’t talk about them

It is speculated that between 10 to 20 mastectomies a year took place during the 1600’s and history suggests our fear of cancer is deep rooted.

Throughout history breast cancer was viewed as primarily a woman’s disease possibly because cancers of the reproductive system were easier to diagnose with a physical examination as an overwhelming majority being breast cancers. By the 17th century surgeons started to perform and record more mastectomies although rates of mortality from these operations are unknown. Even though this was an established procedure it’s effects are hardly ever discussed, the only place a one breasted woman could be envisioned was the exotic figure of the amazon reported in travel books. In Renaissance society, a woman’s primary role was being a mother and wife, mastectomy threatened a displacement from this role. Women’s voices were unrecorded and male writers lacked the framework for discussing women’s bodies away from this role.

Unfortunately, today we still see a lack of positive language around a one-breasted or non-breasted women and the invisibility of an unreconstructed post-mastectomy body attests that the breasts are seen as a symbol of reproduction. Read more….

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