What Does Chinese Medicine Have to Say About Organ Removal to Prevent Cancer?

Celebrities Angelina Jolie and Kelly Osbourne have made news headlines recently, and not for what they wore on the red carpet this time. Angelina Jolie reported having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed very recently. You may recall that she had a double mastectomy in 2013. Both of these surgeries were done in an effort to prevent cancer in the future. After Ms. Jolie’s announcement, Kelly Osbourne spoke about eventually planning to have the same surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes for the same reason. These ladies have both made public the findings that they both carry genetic mutations strongly associated with cancer. Both of their mothers received cancer diagnoses and struggled with the disease (Angelina Jolie’s mother passed away in 2007 at the age of 56 from ovarian cancer, and Sharon Osbourne, Kelly’s mother, survived a bout with colon cancer in 2002. As reported in “The BBC News” http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-20198983, Mrs. Osbourne also had a double mastectomy after learning that she carries a gene that puts her at higher risk to develop breast cancer).

The decision to remove body parts in an effort to prevent cancer must be something that at-risk individuals must make for themselves. Information about potential cancer risk must be taken into account by the affected patients and their families, and thus, the final decision should be left to the individuals without anyone else weighing in on it unless asked personally. Watching a beloved mother struggle with cancer and the effects of treatment must have been devastating for these ladies and for any other daughter or son in the same situation, and in their minds, they are doing the best they can to live long lives. When Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards, realized that she had ignored signs of cancer because she was too busy to get checked when she first noticed a breast lump, she regretted not acting sooner. She talked about this in her book, “Resilience”. Mrs. Edwards later lost her battle to breast cancer at age 61, leaving behind a young adult daughter and two grade school-aged children. Certainly Angelina Jolie and Kelly Osbourne are doing what they can to avoid such regrets and hardships for the families they would be leaving behind as a result of an early cancer death, and prophylactic (preventative) surgery is the route they both chose.

In Chinese medicine, there is a tradition of surgery in some cases, but as a rule, organs were not surgically removed from live subjects. There was not a major emphasis on anatomy in the early years of theoretical development in Chinese medicine. Rather, the idea of the body as a whole organism rather than as a collection of parts was a core belief supporting the way of thinking and following through in medical care in the past and now. Epigenetics tells us that BRCA gene inheritance is not a death sentence in and of itself; lifestyle choices have a great influence on whether or not a person eventually develops cancer.

If you are considering having any of part of your body removed to prevent future cancer, please find out all that you can about the particular procedure in advance, including risks and long term side effects. I would also advise you to get acupuncture to enhance your health regardless of the path you choose. There can be a culture of fear around the human body when you do not know it well, or when you do not trust the wisdom that runs every bodily process without your conscious control. You could become afraid that your body will let you down without warning, and then you could try to control the situation by taking drastic actions. The best you can do everyday is to bring in the concept of prevention even earlier down the line than surgery. Give your body the food, rest, exercise, hydration, and care that make it thrive. In addition, get a couple of different expert opinions both within the Western medical community and outside of it. Your acupuncturist should have an interesting perspective. Do not make this kind of a decision from a rushed, panicked mindset. Give yourself some time. Trust your instinct and your ability to make the right decision for you.

Kerri Winston, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in Atlanta, Georgia's Buckhead area. If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help you or your loved ones, please call 404-949-0550 or send email to [email protected].