Breast cancer clusters encircle Bay

The Bay Area is among four regions in California that have rates of breast cancer 10 to 20 percent higher than the state average, according to new research.

Public Health Institute’s California Breast Cancer Mapping Project in Oakland released new research Tuesday listing several Bay Area regions as “areas of concern‚ÄĚ along with two areas in Southern California.

The research showed higher rates of breast cancer in Marin County, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Contra Costa counties. In the South Bay high rates of breast cancer were found in parts of San Mateo County, northern Santa Clara County and southern Alameda County.

Janice Barlow, executive director of Zero Breast Cancer, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Marin County told SF Gate:

“This opens up whole new areas to look at and explore. It’s an opportunity to advance our understanding of why there are such geographic variations in breast cancer incidence.”

Researchers compiled data from the California Cancer Registry from 2000 to 2008 and used U.S. census tracts to map their results. The research could only include where the women lived at the time of their diagnosis, though, and not factor in areas where they grew up which may have led to their breast cancer.

Even though problem areas have been identified, many unanswered questions remain about the geography behind higher rates of breast cancer.  Researchers suggest the findings could be used by health officials to pinpoint areas to increase breast cancer education and screening efforts.

Dr. Eric Roberts, a research scientist at Public Health Institute and principal investigator of the California Breast Cancer Mapping Project, said:

“We can say definitively that breast cancer is caused by a combination of genetics, behavioral risk factors and the environment. The state of the science is that we really don’t know what the mix is.”

Connie Engel, science and education manager for the Breast Cancer Fund, which researches environmental causes of breast cancer told the Huffington Post:

“I see this as empowerment via knowledge, rather than something to be alarmed about.”