Cases in Putnam County significantly exceeded state and national averages.
OTTAWA, Ohio (AP) -- Worries about a high number of breast cancer cases in one northwest Ohio town have led state health officials to take a closer look.
Breast cancer cases in Putnam County were the highest in Ohio and far exceeded the state and national averages -- 18 percent above the U.S. average, according to Ohio Department of Health numbers released last year.
A health department review concluded that the spike was centered in Ottawa. Officials now will begin reviewing the history of women from the town who were under 49 and diagnosed from 1996 through 2002.
There were 11 cases of breast cancer among that age group while statistically it be would expected to find only 4.9 cases, said Robert Indian, chief of chronic disease and behavioral epidemiology for the state health department.
"That's the unusual group," Indian said. "Premenopausal breast cancer is a little unusual to begin with, but in this instance we have a very true excess of cases observed."
The state will interview each patient and look at their medical records to see if there is something they all have in common. How long the review will take is uncertain, Indian said.
Looking for answers
"Do they have a family history of breast cancer? Do they have any history of extensive chest X-rays? What is their childbearing history? We're going to look for it all," Indian said.
Brenda Alt, 46, of Ottawa, started a support group for cancer survivors who live in the area seven years ago. They meet every month.
"There's a very strong feeling that people want answers," Alt said.
Her neighbor, Darlene Osterhage, doesn't think cancer cases are a coincidence. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2002 at age 45.
"It seems ironic that three ladies in a small subdivision all are diagnosed with breast cancer," she said.
County health commissioner David Woodruff said the numbers do seem to be out of proportion. "That's why we've got to look into it and find out what's going on," he said.
State health officials said the review could simply show that the cancer rate isn't tied to a common factor and is the result of family history or a lifestyle issue.
Health experts estimate that four out of five cancer cases can be linked to lifestyle issues like diet and smoking, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.