10th Jan 2004
Burnham breast cancer rate still high
Breast cancer in Burnham and surrounding towns is a fifth more prevalent than the national average, according to a scientist and campaigner who has studied new figures provided by the Cancer Intelligence Service.
Dr Chris Busby from Green Audit has examined the latest figures published by the South West Cancer Intelligence Service (SWCIS) and confirmed that, in thirteen years between 1990 and 2002, breast cancer registrations were 21 per cent higher than should be expected.
Last month SWCIS updated its annual cancer rates for Burnham North and South, Berrow and Highbridge, following its pledge in May 2003, and issued three years' figures on its website. But campaigners are unhappy with the way the statistics were presented, saying the agency spun the figures by presenting them in isolation, thus reducing their statistical significance. They say in best practice, the last three years should have been added to the previous ten years' figures to give increased statistical power.
Ironically the text of the SWCIS report warns about interpreting long-term trends on the basis of just three years' data but then goes on to say the figures provide reassurance. The one-page report shows local breast cancer to be almost ten per cent higher than average in three recent years 2000 to 2002 but says this is not statistically significant. Dr Busby added this fresh data to previously published SWCIS figures for 1990 to 1999 to give more meaning to the total.
Chris Busby said: "It is a very wrong use of epidemiology to take an isolated short period some considerable time after the main exposure and use it to argue there is no effect. No breakdown is given for individual wards but we might assume from past research that Burnham North would have an even greater incidence rate that has been averaged out in the report."
Jim Duffy, campaigner from Stop Hinkley said: "This confirms once again the breast cancer link to an environmental cause. If we believe the agency figures then the effect might be reducing slightly. This trend may continue with the closure of Hinkley 'A' as has happened near American decommissioned nuclear power stations. But no marks go to SWCIS for their trustworthiness, just when their Director has been appointed to COMARE, supposedly the country's top research unit on the health effects of radiation."
PCAH spokesperson, Julian Plested said: "We're very concerned about the figures but not surprised as they confirm the findings of our doorstep survey. We should now turn our attention to Hinkley 'B' which may possibly contain cracks in its reactor core. If this is the case it could lead to a large accidental release of radiation on top of its routine discharges."
Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator
Green Audit research in 2000 found breast cancer mortality double the national average over four years between 1995 and 1998. Annual updates on mortality confirmed the original figure but are no longer available from the Office of National Statistics.
PCAH (Parents Concerned About Hinkley) Doorstep Survey 2002 found breast cancer 50% above the national average in a one third sample of North Burnham residents. SWCIS and COMARE (Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment) both mistakenly reported this was only based on one third of informants from a 100% sample, suggesting the results were invalid, as those with cancer would have been more likely to respond. COMARE recently retracted this part of their statement. For details on Green Audit reports see this link.
South West Cancer Intelligence Service published local cancer findings in May 2003, then following corrections, in September 2003. They said breast cancer registrations were 30% higher than average between 1990 and 1999 (10 years) and statistically significant, but could not be attributed to Hinkley discharges and many were due to "efficient breast screening".
SWCIS has published cancer data for 2000-2002 (3 years) on its website following several reminders from Stop Hinkley to the Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust who commissioned the data research. www.theswcis.nhs.org.
SWCIS Director, Dr Julia Verne was appointed to COMARE last autumn. Her c.v., now withdrawn from the SWCIS website, showed no experience in radiation-health issues prior to publishing the 2003 report exonerating Hinkley links to high local cancer incidence.