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John A

Words like "suggest" and "possible" are not weasel words at all, but the language of appropriate scientific caution.

But I guess that doesn't fit your transparent agenda.

You should try your luck with recent reports of violent lesbian gangs raping and assaulting people across the US. Bill O'Reilly reported it on Fox News, so it must true.

Seems more your style.


Ouch John. You trying to cause cancer or something?

One reason these women are more prone to cancer might be that they react to any perceived slight with negativity, and get upset over things that other women failed to notice or failed and thus failed to report.

As John ably demonstrates on Andrei, we are all subject to abuse (even if its different types). The people that make an issue of it, carry the stress longer and their health suffers.

So chill John, and don't take my comment too hard. It was merely a returned serve.

Sam Finnemore

I partially agree with ZenTiger: the link between racial discrimination and breast cancer is probably based on stress, which might arise from perceived discrimination. It even says so in the original story:

"Past studies have suggested that over time, perceived racial discrimination can take a toll on a person's health. A possible explanation is that unjust treatment serves as a source of chronic stress, which itself has been linked to poorer physical health."

And John A is a bit vindictive, but he's right about Andrei's charge of 'weasel words'. Note that the researchers say that it's "possible" that discrimination plays "some role" - not only mightn't it be the key factor, it mightn't actually be a factor at all. The researchers have said that the actual links need more investigation.

Which isn't an unreasonable request. Breast cancer is certainly worthy of research; and breast cancer amongst Afro-American women certainly deserves investigation as well, if a link might exist. The problem I have with Andrei's post is that it assumes that the discrimination-cancer link is simply being trumped up in an attempt to gain further grant money, as if cancer amongst different racial groups wasn't worthy of investigation anyway.

Put yourself in the shoes of this head researcher. You've coordinated this study on breast cancer in Afro-American women for over half a decade, and you've just published your findings. One of those findings is a statistical correlation between reported discrimination and breast cancer in young black women. A medical reporter scans the latest issue of the journal, looking for stories, they find this one - and the *suggestion* of a link between discrimination and cancer gives them the perfect attention-grabbing lead.

So suddenly you find yourself being trashed all over blogland for perpetrating a PC rort of taxpayers' money, when you're not sure of the link and it mightn't even have been your key finding.

Doesn't sound terribly fair, does it?


Why jump to the conclusion that racism is the cause?

Karposi's sarcoma affects middle age to elderly Jewish males (and gays) is Karposi's sarcoma caused by anti antisemitism (or homophobia)?

Asian people are far more prone to liver cancer than Europeans - is that racism?

Another truth, given the health records of 17000 people and the number of known cancers you will be able to suggest brocoli or anything else you care to focus on causes some type of cancer.

The reason is this - If you use the standard 95% confidence interval, 5% of the time you can achieve a significant result just by chance.

That is if you have 100 diseases to play with on average brocoli consumption (say) will appear falsly to slightly lower the rate of some disease in your population for 2.5 cancers and falsely slightly elevate it for another 2.5 from your collection.

Depending on whether you want to promote or demonize brocoli you can choose to highlight the "benefits" or the "dangers".

Of course what should happen is someone else should replicate this experiment with an independent sample and get similar results and if, as usually happens, when this is done (which it probably wont be) the effect evaporates we will never hear about it.

David Winter


I think the researchers can probable do ANOVA:

Sam Finnemore

"Why jump to the conclusion that racism is the cause?"

They haven't done anything of the sort. They've admitted it's possible that *perceived* racism might merely play a role, but they haven't claimed that racism is "the cause" at all - in fact, you've accused them of using "weasel words" precisely because they qualified their statement.


The fact is that people with an axe to grind, like Hone Harawira, will jump on any trivial news item that can be co-opted to support their political thesis, blame the white man, and extract more $$$ from the taxpayer for their bunch of whiny parasites


Here is the abstract

Perceived discrimination may contribute to somatic disease. The association between perceived discrimination and breast cancer incidence was assessed in the Black Women's Health Study. In 1997, participants completed questions on perceived discrimination in two domains: "everyday" discrimination (e.g., being treated as dishonest) and major experiences of unfair treatment due to race (job, housing, and police). Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate incidence rate ratios, controlling for breast cancer risk factors. From 1997 to 2003, 593 incident cases of breast cancer were ascertained. In the total sample, there were weak positive associations between cancer incidence and everyday and major discrimination. These associations were stronger among the younger women. Among women aged less than 50 years, those who reported frequent everyday discrimination were at higher risk than were women who reported infrequent experiences. In addition, the incidence rate ratio was 1.32 (95% confidence interval: 1.03, 1.70) for those who reported discrimination on the job and 1.48 (95% confidence interval: 1.01, 2.16) for those who reported discrimination in all three situations—housing, job, and police—relative to those who reported none. These findings suggest that perceived experiences of racism are associated with increased incidence of breast cancer among US Black women, particularly younger women.

Now consider this

There are several studies that link having an abortion with breast cancer.
For example
Howe HL, Senie RT, Bzduch H, Herzfeld P (1989) et al., Int. J. Epidemiol. 18:3004.
Alas not available online but the risk ratio for developing breast cancer under 40 years of age was 1.7 for women who had 1 abortion and increasing for women who had subsequent abortions.

This study is not generally accepted, and despite my anti-abortion views I too am skeptical.

Yet all things being equal it seems more suggestive than the racism one.


Actually I was wrong here is the abstract of the paper cited above

Division of Epidemiology, New York State Department of Health.

In New York State, incidence of cancer and fetal death are reportable health events mandated by state law. These data enabled a population-based record linkage study of the effect of early pregnancy termination on breast cancer risk to be conducted. In upstate New York 1451 cases under age 40 were reported to the Cancer Registry during 1976-1980. Cases were matched with 1451 population controls by year of birth and by residence using zip codes. All names including those changed by marriage were matched with the reports of fetal deaths occurring between 1971 and 1980. Matched pairs analyses revealed an excess of early pregnancy terminations among cases in all categories. Odds ratios (OR) were significantly elevated among those with an induced abortion (OR = 1.9) and a spontaneous abortion (OR = 1.5). Elevated risks were also noted for consecutive abortion events without intervening livebirths.


This is incredible. Only days after posting about my Anti-Racism System of Emancipation (A.R.S.E.) kit [Click here to enter A.R.S.E kit post via the Back Door], I've had several occasions to link to it. Serendipity bordering on miraculous.

In this instance, it does seem the study was very quick to use the "racism" power play on such a flimsy basis rather than making "suggestions" that hinted at conclusions, they could have actually looked a little deeper.

I'm still plumping for stress, generated by people's reactions to real or perceived attacks.

David Winter


My only point was that the researchers behind did a little bit more work than spitting out 20 hypothesis tests and then saying 'wow, one is significant'.

Of course epidemiological studies are frequently unrepeatable, but should researchers just not be looking? Not report results from their study populations so others might try and replicate them?

I also actually don't understand why you think percieved racial discrimination could be lead to stress which plenty of studies have linked with breast cancer


Of course epidemiological studies are frequently unrepeatable, but should researchers just not be looking? Not report results from their study populations so others might try and replicate them?

The question is what should we be looking at?

Should we be trying to correlate the incidence of breast cancer with

  • past abortions
  • number of live births and breast feeding
  • perceived racism
  • broccoli consumption
  • thumb sucking as an infant
  • bicycle riding

My point is perceived racism or stress arising from it is not really a quantifiable variable and even if it were how could this "knowledge" be used to reduce breast cancer.

Incidentally white women have a higher rate of breast cancer than african-american ones according to the Amercan Cancer society, although african-americans do have a higher death rate from it.

This is useful to know. It implies that targeting African-American women for breast screening could perhaps pay dividends in reducing breast cancer death rates.

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