The emerging field of geomedicine can't get moving fast enough for many of us who fear the threat of cancer -- particularly of the breast or prostate. In a recently published study that used the geographic microscope, as I like to refer to the geographic analysis of disease, it was found that the incidence of these two cancers is not a random event. While the authors state that they don't know exactly the underlying factors that cause these "hot spots" -- the areas seen in red on the maps -- it does reveal the wide geographic variability in where people with these types of cancer live. The maps are compelling because they reveal distinct geographic patterns.
. The authors suggest, and you can see for yourself, that both breast cancer (map above) and prostate cancer (map below) cluster geographically, with a strong north-south distribution. You can learn more about this study here.
If I lived for more than a couple of years in any one of the red "hot spots," I would probably be more proactive in seeking more frequent screenings for prostate or breast cancer -- wouldn't you?
More alarming to me, however, was the finding that in counties with a high incidence of breast cancer, there was also a high incidence of prostate cancer. The authors suggest that this could be happening because these two cancers might share similar or common risk factors (i.e. environmental).
These geographical areas might be places where prostate and breast cancer screening advocates could clearly collaborate. Perhaps health care providers could receive more favorable reimbursement from our health insurance programs to increase the frequency of our cancer screenings?
I believe that as the practice of public health and the science of medicine guide the direction of geomedicine, the geographic "microscope" will become an integral part of medical practice. We will begin to see our doctors receive greater value out of all the data that we, as patients, are prepared to give to them -- such as our individual geographic place histories as well as our genetic and lifestyle profiles. (You can check out how a personal place history might work by downloading a free app called My Place History available in the Apple app store for both iPhones and iPads.)
Think of geomedicine as your personal health surveillance system -- always turned on and always vigilant about sensing changes in your environments (communities, neighborhoods, households and worksites, both past and present) that might impact your health. Geomedicine has the capacity to become that platform -- a new medical informatics specialty devoted to bringing all the data together intelligently to actually do something to help you and your doctor keep you healthy. Only though informed informational partnerships with our personal physicians and our public health professionals will we be better served by what is revealed through the modern geographic microscope!
As always, I invite a second opinion!