GIS Technology Helps Link Premenopausal Breast Cancer with Place of Birth, Residence at Time of Menarche

Information may help identify early environmental exposures that increase risk

By Lois Baker

Release Date: June 10, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Geographers and epidemiologists from the University at Buffalo, using life-course data from a cohort of breast cancer patients and controls in Western New York and geographic information systems (GIS) technology, have shown that women who developed breast cancer before menopause tend to cluster based on where they were born and where they lived at their menarche (start of menstruation).

The clustering indicates that these women may have been exposed to something in the environment at those times in their lives that increased their risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer, said Daikwon Han, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the UB Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and first author on the study. There was less evidence of clustering of postmenopausal cancer cases, he said.

Han will present the study results June 12 at the annual meeting of the Society for Epidemiologic Research in Atlanta.

"Researchers are moving more toward a life-course approach in studying the development of chronic disease," said Han. "At UB, we are developing spatial statistical methods to combine geographic information systems, mapping and visualization with epidemiology to help identify patterns of disease."

Finding clustering of cancer patients based on where they were born and lived during early life is significant, said Peter Rogerson, Ph.D., UB professor of geography and a study co-author. "If we just look at where the women lived when they were diagnosed, we miss something important."

The study positioned the clustering of premenopausal cases in an area near the border between Erie and Niagara counties in Western New York.

The project piggybacks on a case-control study of breast cancer in Erie and Niagara

counties led by Jo L. Freudenheim, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. It involves 1,170 women with recently diagnosed breast cancer and 2,116 healthy women. Of this total, about half were born in either of the two counties and had provided the address of their residence at birth and menarche, and became the focus of the current project.

In future studies, the researchers will combine the GIS results with information on the location of steel mills, chemical factories, gasoline stations, toxic-waste sites and other industrial sites in existence in the two counties between 1918-80. They then will calculate the distance between these sites and the women's homes at the time of birth and menarche, and compare this information for the participants with and without cancer.

Also contributing to the research were Matthew Bonner Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow; Jing Nie, graduate student; John E. Vena, Ph.D., professor, and Paola Muti, M.D., associate professor, all of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., professor of social and preventive medicine and interim dean of the school.

The research was supported by grants from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and the National Institutes of Health.