See the Risk for Your Town
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. If those statistics seem frightening, try living on Long Island, where a woman's risk can be upwards of 50% higher than the rest of the country!
View the next slide to see the risk in your zip code.
What Are Cancer Clusters and How Are They Identified?
There are various regions that are identified as cancer clusters and are being studied with a hope of finding some kind of connection between breast cancer and the environmental factors which trigger them. A cancer cluster is considered to be a geographic region that has an unusually high rate or number of cases of the same type of cancer during a certain time period. For a region to be deemed a cancer cluster, the population that resides in that region must first show an increase in a rare form of cancer, lead to an increase in a similar type of cancer, or there can be an increase of cancer in a certain group that has been generally at a low risk for that particular type of cancer.
However, breast cancer is known to rarely meet any of those criteria since it is one of the common types of cancer, and there are also various types of breast cancer. But the state as well as the local healthcare departments, which ideally collect the data on cancer incidences, are generally the first ones to suspect a region to be a possible cancer cluster. After which, researchers or scientists are known to step in to carry out further research, which can include obtaining all the information pertaining to environmental exposures, the patient’s health, as well as the lifestyle of the residents that reside in that cluster region. The residents would also be asked to produce urine or blood samples to check for possible exposure to carcinogens. When the research is able to identify the cluster, then the healthcare department may also ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, for further assistance in accurately identifying the exact cause of so many excessive cancer cases in that particular region.
In the last few decades, most of the cancer clusters are known to have been studied in the United States to determine the genetic component in comparison with the environment as well as the causes of breast cancer. It was then discovered that many of them are likely due to exposures that occur at the job area, and very few of them are known to be a result of residential environmental exposure. Two of the most well-known breast cancer clusters were properly studied during the 1990s. Those cancer clusters were on Long Island in the region of New York, and Marin County in California, in the region of the San Francisco Bay.
Why Is Long Island a Breast Cancer Hot Spot?
The Long Island research was known to be one of the first studies conducted where it showed the highest risk of breast cancer in women. These women had shown an increase in the levels of damaged caused to their DNA in the blood due to constant exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH. These are known to be basically products of combustion. This finding was very important since PAH is seen as a common occurrence in air pollution, charred or heavily grilled food, car exhaust, food items that are cooked at a high temperature, and smoke from tobacco. These harmful toxins are known to lead to cancer as per one study done on animals. By carrying out the analysis of the blood samples, it was found out by the Long Island study researchers that the women who were being diagnosed before menopause or getting exposed to PAH appeared to have a link to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The Long Island study also showed that the blood levels of a residue known as dichloro-diphenyl-dichloroethylene, or DDE, which is basically caused from the use of the toxic chemical known as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), was measured in elderly women around the same time when they had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the results had shown that these women were in no way associated with an increase in their risk of getting breast cancer. But another study, which was conducted in California, discovered that those women who had an increase in the levels of DDT present in their blood due to exposure during their girlhood were said to be at a significant risk of getting breast cancer. This study also pointed out the various kinds of limitations present in the previous studies that had failed to make the DDT–breast cancer connection. Finally, the studies that were conducted on the regions of Long Island and Marin County had shown that the increase in the number of breast cancer cases was mostly due to certain kinds of risk factors, which included genetics, the use of alcohol, and having a baby late in one’s life or never getting pregnant. This ultimately meant that the cause of cancer in such regions was not in any way due to the carcinogens found in the environment, but due to the result of certain kinds of commonalities in the population.
- Delaying children: There have been certain social factors that are known to contribute to an increase in the incidences of breast cancer in Long Island. One of those risk factors that have been identified is the age of the woman when she gives birth to a baby. As per certain well-researched studies, those who have children past the age of 28 years are known to be at an increased risk of having breast cancer. With the change in lifestyle and a generally fast-paced life, more and more women are focusing on their careers than their families, hence, many of the women on Long Island are waiting until the age of 30 to give birth, and in certain cases, some women choose not to start a family at all. All of these are known to dramatically cause an impact on the health of the woman, leading to breast cancer.
- Population of Jewish women is larger: The region of Long Island has a larger population of Jewish women, hence, this has also contributed to the region being called a cancer cluster. Jewish women are frequently known to be carriers of the genes that have been identified as being linked to breast cancer. The genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to appear in one out of 40 Jewish women versus one in 345 as compared to rest of the female population. These numbers are more than enough to explain why so many Jewish women get breast cancer at such a high rate.