With the San Rafael Relay for Life kick off today, there's big news about cancer in Marin County.
Are women in Marin County really more at risk for breast cancer than anywhere else in the world? And if so, why? The answer is still uncertain, but some of the details are coming to light, thanks to the pioneering research of Dr. Kathie Dalessandri, a surgeon scientist in Point Reyes.
Dr. Dalessandri authored a recent study of 338 Marin County women determined to be at high risk for breast cancer. One common factor researchers discovered was a variant of a receptor that could prevent the body from adequately processing Vitamin D. The vitamin has been linked in past studies to lowering the risk of cancer.
The results of the study have to be interpreted carefully, however.
"The impression it gives is that living in Marin makes a difference," argued Dr. Leah Kelley, a breast surgeon at Marin General Hospital. "This is part of the Marin Women's Study. We were given samples which are a great source of information for scientists, but it does not mean that women in Marin are at a higher risk than anywhere else."
What it does mean, according to Dr. Kelley, is we are learning more about what can trigger breast cancer, even among a well-educated, higher income, predominantly Caucasian community. The variation discovered in this study does not necessarily cause breast cancer, but is associated with the disease, according to Dr. Kelley, who said it deserves more research.
Rochelle Ereman, MS, MPS, epidemiologist for the County of Marin Department of Health and Human Services is the director of the Marin Women's Study, which continues to collect data.
"You might have blue eyes or you might have brown eyes, but you still have eyes and you still see," Dr. Kelley explained. "You have receptors, so it's natural that you'd have more than one variation in a receptor. Do the variations sense Vitamin D less well? We want to know."
Dr. Kelley does not suggest women go out and stock up on Vitamin D supplements. Nor does she advise going out and getting a sunburn. She suggests boosting Vitamin D intake by drinking milk and eating leafy green vegetables.
The good news?
"We're making slow, steady progress. We're chipping away at it," Dr. Kelley said. "We're moving toward individual treatment."
San Rafael Relay for Life
Start: 10 a.m., Saturday, August 25
End: 10 a.m., Sunday, August 26
At College of Marin Kentfield track