Cancer Clusters:

Breast Cancer on Long Island

Erica Wong

My presentation was about the cancer cluster present on Long Island, east of New York City. Long Island, comprised of Nassau and Suffolk counties, has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in New York State (137.8 per 100,000 females in Nassau County and 133.0 per 100,000 females in Suffolk County developed breast cancer, as compared to 121.8 per 100,000 females in all of New York) and in the country. One statistic claims that one in seven women will eventually develop breast cancer.

Suffolk and Nassau also have some of the highest rates of pesticide use in New York; 1/5 of all the pesticides used in New York were used on Long Island alone. Since Long Island was previously farmland, pesticide use was very common and is still prevalent – although Long Island is not much of an agricultural area anymore, people tend to use pesticides in order to take care of their lawns. In addition, Long Islanders are dependent on aquifers and wells for drinking water. Pesticides could easily seep through the ground and find their way into the water supply.

Thus, people thought a link between breast cancer and pesticide use was possible. The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project (LIBCSP) was created in order to further examine this possible link. The LIBCSP was comprised of several studies; one, the Breast Cancer and Environment in Long Island Study, found no increased risk of cancer due to the presence of organochlorines (a key component of many pesticides) but a 50% risk due to polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons. However, another study called the New York State Cohort Study of Diet and Cancer indeed found a connection between cancer risk and organochlorines – those who lived with one mile of waste sites containing organochlorines were three times more likely to develop cancer. These results conflict with those of the previous study.

So, is there really a problem or is this just coincidence? And if there is a problem, what’s causing it?


Questions to ponder
- Only 10-15 more females per 100,000 on Long Island developed breast cancer, compared to the rest of New York. Is this really cause for concern?
- The LIBCSP only studied four chemicals. What about the thousands of other chemicals? Are there any flaws to the study?
- What effect, if any, do previous events (i.e. Toms River, Hinckley) and the media (the movie “Erin Brockovich”) have on public perception?
- What kind of motives do advocacy groups and government officials have when presenting information about this issue to the public?
- Are we ignoring the possibility that other things, not pesticides, are to blame for the high rates of breast cancer on Long Island?
- What about other diseases that might be caused by high pesticide use? Are we ignoring them?


Some key points/questions brought up in discussion
- Perhaps the study should have been modified to examine the effects of other factors (age, race, socioeconomic factors)
- Was the study a failure even though no real cause of the high cancer rates on Long Island was pinpointed? Maybe just putting this issue in the public spotlight is a good start.
- Is there a “tech fix” available?
- Isn’t it a good thing if through the study, we could find links to other diseases?
- Wouldn’t it still be okay even if we couldn’t find a solid link between pesticides and breast cancer, if we could reduce the overall use of pesticides anyway? Pesticides are harmful to the environment – they can reduce genetic diversity and make “pests” resistant to pesticides.


For more information
"The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project":

a supplement to The Toxic Treadmill: Pesticide Use and Sales in New York
State, 1997-1998:

"Breast Cancer and the Environment: Are They Related?" from The Long Island
Breast Cancer Action Committee:

"L.I. Breast Cancer Study Criticized: Grucci Calls For More Research" from
Suffolk Life newspaper


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last updated 4/23/06