Contributor corner: Charlotte Huff

huffCharlotte Huff, a Texas-based journalist and recovering newspaper staffer, has written about medicine for two decades. As a political science major and Fulbright journalism scholar, she gravitates toward stories that intertwine science, money and ethics. Her features have appeared in various publications, including American Way, GenomeMedical Economics, Slate and Women’s Health. After many years of living in Fort Worth, she’s dodged a twister and now says y’all, but hasn’t yet purchased a cowboy hat or boots.

Twitter: @Charlotte_Huff

What's your feature about?

The piece grew out of a really intriguing scientific theory, mentioned by a doctor in passing, that many of the malignancies we call ovarian cancer might actually be seeded in the nearby fallopian tubes. I’ve written about cancer for many years, and had never heard about this growing body of research.

For women who carry mutated forms of the BRCA genes the personal stakes couldn’t be higher, as they are encouraged to remove their ovaries as a preventive measure once they’ve finished having children. So this experimental surgery, to remove only the tubes in the short term, might open an alternative path if they refuse the recommended surgery, fearing premature menopause. But they have to make the decision while the underlying science remains uncertain.

What did you learn in the process of reporting and writing it that you didn't expect?

I wasn’t surprised that some doctors are concerned, even alarmed, about offering this experimental surgery to women with BRCA mutations, given that their lifetime ovarian cancer risk can approach 40 per cent. What did impress me were the women I spoke with during the course of the reporting, or listened to as they met with doctors and nurses at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. They’re asking great questions. They’re not in denial about the stakes involved if they keep their ovaries. Their dilemma provides an emblematic case of personal decision-making in the face of daunting choices.

Read Charlotte’s feature in Mosaic, from 10 March 2015.