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Cancer Invest. 2002;20(5-6):810-6.

Things to know and do about cancer clusters.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Norma J. Arnold School of Public HealthUniversity of South Carolina School of Medicine, Six Richland Medical Park, Columbia, SC 29203, USA.


Perceived cancer clusters present difficulties and opportunities for clinicians and public health officials alike. Public health officials receive reports of perceived cancer clusters, evaluate the validity of these reports, and/or launch investigations to identify potential causes. Clinicians interact directly with the affected patients, families, or community representatives who question the occurrence of cancer and the underlying causes. Clinicians may identify cancer clusters when they question the unusual occurrence of a rare form of cancer within their practice or community. In addition, clinicians may be asked to discuss cancer clusters and inform local debates. In this paper, we describe the public health practice experience with cancer clusters and identify cancer prevention and control opportunities for clinicians and public health officials. Scientific investigations of cancer clusters rarely uncover new knowledge about the causes of cancer. However, a set of common characteristics, unique to etiologic cluster investigations have uncovered new information about the causes of cancer or demonstrated a preventable link to a known carcinogen. These characteristics may provide useful clues for sorting out the small number of clusters worthy of further scientific investigation. Public awareness of cancer clusters may promote an opportunity to inform and motivate people about the preventable causes of cancer and effective cancer screening methods.

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