31 August 2002
Cancer Mythology on Long Island
The search for environmental causes for a supposed breast cancer
epidemic on Long Island is beginning to look like a wild goose chase.
The cornerstone study in a $30 million federal effort to unravel
the contentious issue reported this month that it could find no
link between breast cancer and the prime environmental suspects,
such as DDT and PCB's. It identified only a modest link, possibly
due to chance, to pollutants in car exhaust and cigarette smoke.
More results are still to be published, and breast cancer activists
are calling for yet more investigations into a wider array of chemicals.
But the negative findings suggest it is time to rein in this fruitless
quest. There may simply be no significant environmental cause of
breast cancer on Long Island, or if there is, it may be undetectable.
large-scale study was pushed by advocates for breast cancer research
and was mandated in 1993 by politicians eager to be responsive.
Both groups dismissed as superficial an analysis by the Federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that attributed breast
cancer rates on Long Island to heredity and other known risk factors.
Now the study the activists demanded is coming up blank on environmental
causes and is simply reaffirming many of the established risk factors,
such as a family history of breast cancer, having a first child
at a late age, never giving birth or doing little or no breast-feeding.
the presumed breast cancer epidemic on Long Island, with incidence
rates supposedly 30 percent above the national average, has faded
into the realm of myth. As Gina Kolata pointed out in The Times
on Thursday, the rates on Long Island are only slightly higher than
the national average and are typical for the Northeast.