Understanding Cancer Clusters

Getting ahead of cancer and helping people lower their risks of developing various forms of this disease sometimes requires identifying carcinogenic conditions in the environment. While genetics, family history and lifestyle choices may all play a role in the development of some types of cancer, the cause sometimes comes from a different source. Chemicals and other toxins in the environment may sometimes be to blame. When that’s suspected to be the case, researchers delve into the possibility that a “cancer cluster” has formed. This type of investigation helps them better understand abnormally high incidence rates of cancer while potentially enabling them to find the environmental source of the cancer.

Cancer clusters are technically nothing more than a greater number of cancer cases within a specific population, generally determined by geography. Cancer clusters are often suspected when multiple people are diagnosed with the same type or related types of cancer from within the same neighborhood, workplace or family.

Identifying cancer clusters is vital for helping scientists uncover the possible root cause of the rise of cancer incidents. Chemicals in the workplace, for example, may be identified as carcinogens or other environmental causes found and eliminated during the study of suspected cancer clusters.

Cancer clusters are somewhat rare, but suspicious are typically reported to state and local health departments. These agencies can also help people find out if a suspected cancer cluster is under investigation. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may also work with state authorities to investigate suspected cancer clusters.

Definitively identifying cancer clusters is a long and tedious process. Even so, reporting suspicions is critical for helping kick off investigations that might shed light on the carcinogenic source should an actual cluster be found.

To learn more about cancer clusters, people can check in with their state health departments or the CDC online. Personal healthcare providers may also be able to offer information about cancer clusters or suspected cancer clusters within a specific geographical region.

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