NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Cancer Clusters" And Environmental Pollution

June 13, 2001

Federal, state and academic investigators who study cancer clusters across the country told members of the Senate Cancer Coalition last week that the public remains concerned that elevated cancer rates in their communities could come from pollution in the air, water and soil. Recent movies depicting a link between environmental pollution and cancer, including "Erin Brockovich," have stoked the public's fears.

Yet, some of the experts asked lawmakers and the public not to stake too much on cancer cluster investigations. They pointed out:

  • Most cancer clusters can be blamed on smoking, poor diet and other lifestyle factors.
  • Only for 10 percent to 15 percent of 1,900 possible cancer clusters reported to federal and state officials in 1996 were cancer rates shown to be increased in specific areas.
  • And of the thousands of cluster studies that have been done, only one study has ever definitively linked a cancer cluster to an environmental pollutant in a community, though others have linked occupational exposures to cancers in workers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the cancer coalition, plans to introduce legislation later this summer that would revise the 1971 National Cancer Act to fund efforts to improve data collection surrounding cancer clusters, says Reuters Health.

Source: "Proven Cancer Clusters Rare; Investigators Want Better Data Collection," Reuters Health, June 5, 2001.


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