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What constitutes a cluster of diagnoses?


Ask-the-Expert Online Conference

Question from Sue: I teach at a school that has had what some would consider a cluster of breast cancer and other cancers. My assistant and I have BOTH been diagnosed just this summer with IDC. There are rumors of toxicity, and we have a documented mold problem. What constitutes a “cluster” that can be investigated and hopefully remedied?
Answers - Sue Heffelfinger This is one of the most common questions nationally. There do appear to be neighborhoods, buildings, or workplaces where all of sudden you notice many people being diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes there is a culprit and sometimes there isn't, and the question is, what do you do about it? Certainly notifying physicians and health officials in your region is appropriate to see if there resources available for investigation.

But what I say often, particularly because of the deep level of concern from families in that cluster area, is to keep in mind that with the extraordinary frequency of breast cancer in our population, just by statistics alone you're going to find some of these clustering events that are really not related to local exposure, but to the fact that this is a very common disease. Many large clusters have been extremely well-investigated, and if you look at some of the websites we've mentioned, you may find information about Marin County, CA and Long Island, NY which are two of the best studies of cluster cohorts.

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