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This week, the Environment Report is taking an in-depth look at the connections between cancer and the environment.When somebody gets cancer, one of the first questions is usually "why?"Does this kind of cancer run in my family?Was it something in the water, or in the air around me?Did I get exposed to something?What would you do, or where would you go to answer these questions? We'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.We'll also meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution.You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses.Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

Where are the 'cancer hot spots' in Michigan?

This image shows part of a six-step sequence of the death of a cancer cell.
Cancer cells

Michigan's cancer profile can cause unease, especially if you live or work near polluted waterways or land. Federal health data show that where you live might determine whether you will get cancer and what type.

Journalist Norm Sinclair looked at the "cancer hot spots" in Michigan for the August issue of DBusiness magazine, and he joined us today from Oakland County.

“It’s surprising to see that, in addition to the fact that in four of five cancers Michigan ranks in the top 20 nationally, we have four counties—Tuscola, Wexford, Osceola, and Marquette--that have double the national average for thyroid, childhood cancers, kidney, and brain cancer,” said Sinclair.

“And we have three counties . . . Tuscola, Bay, and Lapeer on the south side of the Saginaw Bay, the Saginaw River, and they are among the state’s leaders in six different cancers.”

Genetics and lifestyle choices play a big part in the likelihood of one getting cancer, and now health experts are cautiously saying that geography and environment can also be factors.

While studying the cancer hot spots in Michigan, Sinclair looked at nine cancers specifically: kidney, pancreas, thyroid, brain, bladder, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and two categories of childhood cancers.

Four counties on the south side of the Tittabawassee River and the Saginaw River into Saginaw Bay are the hottest spots in Michigan for all of these cancers.

“The number one culprit that everybody points to is the DOW chemical plant, which from 1890 to the 1970s, discharged all kinds of waste that were later found out to be carcinogenic into the river,” Sinclair said. “And the cleanup continues today.”

Sinclair says the hot spots all have lakes, rivers, and a history of environmental abuse in common. He advises people living in these areas be cautious with drinking water.

For more information go to http://statecancerprofiles.cancer.gov/index.html

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.

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