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The epidemic that never was

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7367.782 (Published 05 October 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:782
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne, medical journalist
  1. New York

    Did activists and the media create a suburban legend?

    When is an epidemic not an epidemic? When do activist groups help a sometimes uncritical media to create one?

    On 6 August, the New York Times reported that a seven year, $8m study by the United States National Cancer Institute on possible links “between pollution and high rates of breast cancer on Long Island had failed to show any connection between the disease and pesticides that were once widely used on the island.”

    This was a blow to 1in9, an activist group on Long Island that for years had called for studies of environmental risks for breast cancer. (1in9 refers to the fact that one American woman in nine will develop breast cancer if she lives to be 85.) Breast cancer rates on Long Island were said to be 30% higher than the national average, a figure often cited by women with breast cancer, by politicians seeking votes and funds, by …

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