Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.


  1. Yeah, it’s amazing how difficult it is to prove these things, and that’s a problem, since the burden of proof is always on the people trying to eliminate the awful chemicals, not the companies that manufacture and use them. Florence Williams wrote a nice piece for Mother Jones about another such situation, at Camp Lejune in NC, where unbelievable contamination appears to be causing a rare cluster of men with breast cancer. The scientists are still trying to sort it out. Great story, which Maggie took note of when it first went online: http://mojo.ly/L2WCu3

    1. True, and I’m not sure if it makes it better or worse that one of the main difficulties is that quite often, there really isn’t an underlying cause for a disease cluster.

      When there is a suspicion of contamination, it might be better to attack it by looking for (causes of) unacceptable pollutant levels in groundwater and such, not cancer/disease clusters: Absolute measurements like chemical concentrations are far less likely to be by chance, and it’s also easier to geographically nail where the problem is…

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