Marin County’s High Breast Cancer Estimates Based on Inaccurate Census Numbers, NCI Says
Marin County's high breast cancer rates reported last year were based on "faulty" population estimates, and while the estimated rates are still above the national average, they are "not far out of line" with rates in other parts of the state, according to the National Cancer Institute, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. NCI researchers came to that conclusion after reviewing 2000 census data for the county and said that new population numbers available from the 2000 census "significantly alter" the estimates of breast cancer rates in the county between 1991 and 1999, the Chronicle reports. Brenda Edwards, associate director of NCI's surveillance program, said, "Using these new numbers, the cancer rates for Marin County are lower, and it's in large part a function of us having better information on the population. What was reported last year was not only high, it was extreme even among the high ones. Now it's more in the high area, but not so unusually high" (Torassa, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3). Previously, the county reported that the average number of new breast cancer cases in the county from 1995 to 1999 was 199 per 100,000 white women, compared to 143 per 100,000 white women in other similar areas of the state. The reported high rates of breast cancer have been speculatively linked to socioeconomic or environmental factors. A number of studies have found that wealthy, educated women who do not have children or have them late in life and women who have more access to hormone supplements have an increased risk of breast cancer. Marin County has high percentage of white, middle-aged women with those and other risk factors. Researchers have also said that the county does not have contaminated water or soil and that the rates do not appear to be linked to environmental factors (California Healthline, 1/27). Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-Petaluma), who asked federal health officials to review the data, said, "Even though the preliminary results of the incidence of breast cancer in Marin County may not be higher than other areas on the West Coast, I will continue to fight for Marin-based cancer studies and research" (Torassa, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).
While the news that Marin County's breast cancer rates "might not be so off-the-charts-high" as originally thought was "like a splash of cool water," the rates are still "too high," Chronicle columnist Joan Ryan writes. She says that while the NCI findings "seemed to suggest that we had no more to worry about than any other woman in America," the new numbers are not reason to become complacent in the fight against breast cancer. Ryan concludes that Marin County's "small and generally homogeneous" population makes the county "like a breast cancer petri dish," adding, "If researchers solve the mystery of breast cancer for the residents in this one small county, they solve it for millions around the world" (Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.