Cancer Clusters: Findings Vs Feelings

David Robinson

Disclosures
In This Article

A Checklist: ACSH Recommends

For healthcare providers:

  • Encourage your patients to be skeptical. "Common sense" does not trump science in this realm.

  • Encourage your patients to know their sources: activists and experts often disagree when it comes to cancer clusters.

  • Encourage your patients to remember the bull's-eye effect: check for bias in the way statistics are organized or calculated.

For journalists:

  • Help consumers differentiate among suspected clusters in which incidence is actually not increased, clusters in which incidence is increased, and clusters for which a cause other than chance has been identified or is at least strongly suspected on good scientific grounds.

  • Put community concern in context -- use information like that contained in this report to ensure that the science of cancer clusters gets covered along with the human side of the issue.

  • Clearly distinguish between helpful actions that people can take to reduce cancer risk -- frequent checks for early detection, a healthy diet and exercise, and in some cases chemoprevention -- from steps like filtering the water that are not proven ways of reducing cancer risk.

For politicians:

  • Focus on measures that are both popular and proven -- like mammograms and chemoprevention when appropriate for breast cancer, and frank but well-informed discussion of confirmed lifestyle risks for all cancers.

  • Explain the facts about environmental clusters -- we may have nothing to fear but fear itself.

  • Maximize the efficacy of cancer research and epidemiology dollars by allowing public health officials and scientists to direct and manage the details of research efforts.

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