Marin County in California has been called “the breast cancer capital of the world” because it has an unusually high rate of breast cancer?as does Long Island, New York. Residents suspect environmental causes, but epidemiologist Tina Clarke says, “It’s not the geography; it’s the demography. It’s the type of person living in Marin County.”
Breast cancer more often strikes women who have children late in life or not at all. The mostly white, highly educated professional women in Marin County and Long Island have their children later than women in other areas of the country.
From 1995-1999, the average number of new breast cancer cases reported in Marin County each year was 199 out of every 100,000 white females, compared with 143 for every 100,000 white females in the rest of urban California. Breast cancer rates rose 37% in Marin County in the 1990s, while they rose only 3% in other California counties.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey and Sen. Barbara Boxer, both from Marin County, have gotten $900,000 in federal grants to look at environmental risk factors in the area. They plan to investigate a San Rafael quarry, a plastic foam cup factory in Corte Madera, as well as local power lines.
But research into environmental causes of high breast cancer rates in other areas has failed to solve the cancer mystery. An $8 million, seven-year study by the National Cancer Institute that looked at pesticides in the blood and urine of women in Long Island couldn?t find a link between breast cancer and environmental pollution.
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