Health officials plan cancer survey

The Associated Press
Tuesday October 15, 2002

SAN RAFAEL — Marin County health officials and community groups soon will be polling residents as part of an effort to learn why the scenic, affluent region north of San Francisco is home to one of the nation’s highest rates of breast cancer. 

The Marin Cancer Project has scheduled 3,000 volunteers to travel door-to-door through Novato, Corte Madera and other cities on Nov. 9 to raise awareness of breast cancer’s prevalence there and ask residents for clues as to why rates have climbed. 

According to the Northern California Cancer Center in Berkeley, white women living in Marin have a 45 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer than women anywhere else in the country. A study released in July by the center found the rate increased 37 percent from 1990 to 1999 in Marin, but remained flat in the rest of the San Francisco Bay area and California’s other urban counties. 

The researchers focused on white, non-Hispanic women because fewer than 10 cases of breast cancer are found each year in Hispanics, blacks or other populations in Marin County, which is 80 percent white. 

While residents and researchers alike continue to search for an environmental cause, some scientists believe socio-economic factors contribute to the high rate. 

Marin County boasts a per capital income more than 200 percent the U.S. average, 44 percent of its adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree. 

The habits linked with such a lifestyle — bearing fewer children, having them later in life or taking estrogen and other hormones to alleviate the onset of menopause — may trigger cancer, researchers say. 

Judi Shils, founder of the grassroots Marin County Cancer Project, said the group hopes to talk with 100,000 people and collect at least $1 per person to fund an epidemiology map of cancer incidences based on 20 years of statistics gathered by the cancer center. 

“I’m watching so many of my friends getting breast cancer and so many people in our lives getting prostate cancer,” said Shils, a Marin County resident who said she founded the organization because she is tired of so many unanswered questions. 

“If there’s something we can do to move forward we have to do it.”