Radioactive Times: LLRC Journal

Putting Breast Cancer on the Map
Womenís Environmental Network Study Complete

Report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 2, October 1999 (content updated)

The Womenís Environmental Network has just completed their 2-year project Putting Breast Cancer on the Map.The project, funded by the National Lottery, resulted in information and local environmental hazard maps being received from some 1000 women across the UK. These maps are not to scale nor are they complete. They show the information that each person feels is valuable in explaining the incidence of breast cancer in their local area.

To explain the cause of a disease such as breast cancer, an epidemiologist has to know the relative risk in an area and relate that to some putative and plausible cause of the disease. It is a pity that the colourful and poignant records of disease cases and their environment mapped by the women did not provide more of this "hard data". In some maps (see above) there seem to be remarkable clusters of cases but we do not learn the ages of the cases or the period over which they were diagnosed or the population of the areas in which these people lived.. Consequently, without follow up, no firm conclusions can be drawn about relative risk or causation. However, what the project has succeeded in doing very well is drawing attention to the environmental origin of the disease and also perhaps pinpointing areas where the clusters of breast cancer require investigation. This kind of exercise should be carried out by SAHSU but no-one expects them to do anything of the kind, and in the absence of small area data from the cancer registries, WEN have begun the job of digging out the data themselves.

Green Audit has just acquired breast cancer mortality by ward for England and Wales for 1993-1998 from the Office for National Statistics and is hoping to obtain funding to put a researcher on to examining this enormous dataset for clusters and breast cancer mortality risks in areas highlighted by the WEN study. Several cheers to WEN for their hard work and courage.

Contact Helen Lynn, Women's Environmental Network, PO Box 30626 London E1 1TZ tel. +44 (0) 207 481 9004

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