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Breast Cancer and the Environment on Long Island
Marilie D. Gammon, principal investigator

The Breast Cancer and the Environment on Long Island study is a population-based case-control study conducted to determine if certain environmental factors may be associated with increased risk of breast cancer among women on Long Island. The first paper from the study appears in the August issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment* and describes the study population, research methods, and distributions of established risk factors for breast cancer among the study population. The paper is by principal investigator Marilie D. Gammon, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues.

Later papers will report findings from the two main aims of the study: to investigate whether risk for breast cancer is associated with blood levels of: (1) organochlorine compounds, such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and (2) polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). DDT is a pesticide that is now banned in the United States, but persists in adipose (fatty) human tissue for years. PCBs are a group of chemical compounds found in coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors, and other electrical equipment. PCBs are not permitted in new equipment, but the compounds persist widely in the environment in humans and animals. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, or other substances such as tobacco smoke, grilled or smoked foods, and vehicle exhaust. These two articles are scheduled for publication in August 2002 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

In the Breast Cancer Research and Treatment paper, the researchers report that the study population consisted of 1,508 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer (cases) over a one-year period beginning August 1996, and 1,556 women who did not have breast cancer (controls). Of the women who had cancer, 1,273 had invasive breast cancer, and 235 women had in situ breast cancer. In situ breast cancer is early cancer that has not spread to neighboring tissue. All of the women were from Nassau and Suffolk counties, and ranged in age from 20 to 98 years old.

The study participants were asked to answer two questionnaires and to donate blood and urine specimens. The main questionnaire asked the women about their pregnancy and occupational histories, residential history in Nassau and Suffolk counties, use of pesticides in and around the home or farm, use of electrical appliances, lifetime history of eating smoked or grilled foods, active and passive cigarette smoking history, alcohol consumption, medical history, menstrual history, use of hormones, family history of cancer, body size changes by decade of life, lifetime participation in recreational physical activities, and demographic characteristics, such as race/ethnicity. Women were also asked to complete a food questionnaire.

A subset of the study population who had lived in their current homes for 15 years or more was invited to participate in environmental sampling of house dust, tap water, and yard soil. A random sample of white women who had met the residency requirement were invited to participate. All study participants who identified themselves as African American or black and who met the residency requirement were invited to participate. Of the total study population, 383 cases and 429 controls participated in the home study.

The researchers found that many of the established risk factors for breast cancer were associated with increased risk for the disease among women in the study. These risk factors included increasing age, having a family history of breast cancer, having a first child at a late age (age 28 or older in this study), never having given birth to a child, and having higher income.

Some recognized risk factors were not found to be associated with increased risk for breast cancer among all women in the study, however, such as early age at beginning of menstruation (menarche) and having attained a higher level of education. More detailed analysis are being conducted to understand these results.

The investigators appreciate the cooperation of the many women who participated in this study and made it possible.

The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and gifts from private citizens.

* "The Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project: Description of a Multi-institutional Collaboration to Identify Environmental Risk Factors for Breast Cancer," (abstract) is published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 74:235-254, 2002. The authors are Marilie D. Gammon, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Alfred I. Neugut, M.D., Regina M. Santella, Ph.D., Susan L. Teitelbaum, Ph.D., Ruby T. Senie, Ph.D., Gail C. Garbowski, M.P.H., Mary Beth Terry, Ph.D., Sybil M. Eng, Ph.D., and Bruce Levin, Ph.D., Columbia University, New York, NY; Julie A. Britton, Ph.D., Mary S. Wolff, Ph.D., and Maureen Hatch, Ph.D., and Gertrud S. Berkowitz, Ph.D., Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY; Steven D. Stellman, Ph.D., American Health Foundation; Geoffrey C. Kabat, Ph.D., and Margaret Kemeny, Ph.D., State University of New York at Stony Brook; H. Leon Bradlow, Ph.D., Strang Research Laboratory, New York, NY; Jan Beyea, Ph.D., Consulting in the Public Interest, Lambertville, N.J.; David Camann, B.S., Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas; Martin Trent, B.A., Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Hauppauge, NY; Carla Maffeo, Ph.D., and Pat Montalvan, M.A.,Westat, Inc., Rockville, Md.; Marc Citron, M.D., Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Queens, NY; Freya Schnabel, M.D., Columbia University and South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, NY; Allan Schuss, M.D., Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, NY; Steven Hajdu, M.D., and Vincent Vincguerra, M.D., North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY; Gwen W. Collman, Ph.D., National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; and G. Iris Obrams, M.D., Ph.D., National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Campus Box 7400
McGavran-Greenberg Hall
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400
Fax: 919 966-2089

The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.