Let's Talk About Breast Cancer

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 26, 2009 7:59 pm

Born and raised in Suffern, NY, pretty much everyone I knew was touched somehow by breast cancer. If it didn’t affect you personally, either your friend or aunt or mother or sister or grandmother seemed to be struggling with the disease. There was the routine of chemotherapy, hair loss, mastectomy, and on… it almost seemed as common as dealing with the removal of wisdom teeth. Just take a look at the incidence in Rockland County over 4 years (click here for the expanded list):

Picture 4

Later in Maine, the wife of a professor in my department was diagnosed with the same condition. Many peers had not encountered breast cancer personally until then and I realized my county was unusual. I also learned the couple coincidentally used to live on the street where I grew up.

So what’s going on in Rockland? Some local doctors wonder about environmental toxins and others suggest that the particular genetic make-up of residents may make the population more susceptible than average. Speculation abounds, but there are no answers.

This afternoon I’m concerned about yet another friend having a biopsy. Meanwhile CNN reports on the troubling new trend of younger women getting the disease. The incidence is still quite low, but we ought to be paying close attention. As National Breast Cancer Awareness month draws to a close, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates there were 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women and 1,910 in men last year in the United States. Rates in this country are among the highest in the world. (Statistics are available to download here).


Comments (9)

  1. Breast cancer is one kind of cancer which we might stand a realistic chance of eradicating or at least reducing to negligible levels. I was part of a team that designed a new potential breast cancer drug. We published the work this year and very soon the compound may enter clinical trials. We are hoping it would be successful.

  2. Julian Lieb

    Databases such as Medline and Pubmed contain more than sixty articles on the remarkable anticancer properties of antidepressants. Antidepressants kill cancer cells, inhibit their proliferation, convert multidrug resistant cells to sensitive, protect nonmalignant cells from damage by ionizing radiation and chemotherapy toxicity, and target the mitochondria of cancer cells, while sparing those of health ones. Antidepressants can arrest tumors even in advanced stages, occasionally eradicate them, and significantly extend life. Depression significantly increases the risk of cancer, and of dying of it. Media inormed of the new paradigm are ethically obligated to disseminate it to their readers.

  3. Sven DIMilo

    I realized my county was unusual

    ? You know, right, that the data you posted show those zipcodes have incidences at or below the statewide rates…?

  4. Paha Arkkitehti

    1119 cases reported and 1060 expected. So, what, exactly is your point in posting such thing? Other than be timely with ACS but with data that does not…uhhmm…

  5. toby lee

    Every woman should know about the data on vitamin D and breast cancer prevention. Over two years ago the Canadian Cancer Society started recommending that everyone take vitamin D to prevent cancer, an event that has received very little coverage in the press. Take a look at http://www.vitaminD3world.com for some good summaries of the data

  6. MadScientist

    It looks to me like a fundamental misunderstanding of statistics and a tendency to ‘cherry pick’ data in support of some paranoid thought. The incidence of breast cancer is low enough that the populations being considered are not large enough to produce the “expected” results without showing large annual variations. Do not consider a mere few years; look at the whole record or else you are ignoring valuable information. This is especially important when the effect you are investigating (breast cancer) has a very low probability to begin with.

  7. I grew up in Orange County, just north of Rockland County. I wouldn’t go back there if my life depended upon it.

  8. MadScientist

    I just happened across this excellent presentation by Dr. Harriet Hall (MD); it’s rather long but well worth reading since she does discuss issues with low probability events (though of course not in the detail you can get from standard statistical texts):


  9. Starting a site relevant to yours got me to start some research and I found your post to be very helpful. My site is centered around the idea of starving cancer by halting the angiogenic process. I hope of you good luck with your writing in the future and you can be sure I’ll be following it.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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