Utah environmental epidemiology program highlights cancer risks, discusses requests for cluster investigations
Utah's environmental epidemiology program often receives requests from local health departments and the general public to investigate possible clusters of cancer.
It is common for people to suspect that the cancer cluster is caused by some toxic substance in the environment, indicates the epidemiology program.
Cancer is not a single disease but many diseases with different risk factors, rates of occurrence, and chances for survival, points out the epidemiology program.
There are more than 100 different types of cancer characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells each with different etiologic risk factors.
The cancer growth can start in one of many organs or tissues in the body and may be caused by a variety of factors acting alone or together, continues the epidemiology program.
Therefore, it cannot be assumed that all the different types of cancers in a community or workplace share a common cause.
The exact causes of many cancers are still unknown, points out the epidemiology program. In the agency's experience of assessing cancer risk in Utah, the health officials have found that concerns often arise from common misunderstanding relative to how often people develop cancer and what causes it.
Most cancer risks are attributed to smoking, diet, alcohol use, sexual and reproductive history, occupation, certain kinds of infections, the use of certain medication or medical treatments and even exposure to sunlight.
Genetics/family history also play an important role in the development of cancer.
Various cancers also have different latency periods. A latency period is the time between exposure to one or more cancer causing agents and the appearance of the cancer.
The latency period my be as long as 20 to 30 years between exposure and possible cancer formation.
The cancers people are diagnosed with today are typically caused by behaviors or exposures that occurred ten to 30 years before, according to the state health program.
Therefore, the residence of where an individual is diagnosed with cancer is often not the residence where the individual lived when the cancer first began to develop.
Furthermore, the long latency period makes it problematic to isolate or pinpoint and associate a particular exposure to a particular cancer, points out the state health program.
The average individual is exposed to thousands of naturally occurring (and synthetic) carcinogens in his or her lifetime, however, these exposures do not necessarily mean that one will develop cancer.
Although environmental factors are often implicated as the primary cause of cancer, very few have been proven to be causes of cancers.
Of the total cancer mortality attributed to environmental factors, the geophysical environmental and pollution account for approximately 5 percent of the cases.
But personal behavior/lifestyle account for approximately 75 percent of all cancer mortality.
Current scientific research does not provide an absolute means of distinguishing factors of heredity, gender, hormonal influences, natural occurring carcinogens in plants and animals, synthetic carcinogens, sexual habits and reproductive systems, personal lifestyle, and whole host of other factors associated with human cancers, concludes Utah's environmental epidemiology program.