Does living in a low-income, densely populated neighborhood such as San Francisco’s Tenderloin district predispose you to a higher cancer risk than if you live in an upscale and suburban neighborhood such as San Diego’s Rancho Santa Fe? Or vice versa? Scientists at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) now have the data that hold the answers.

Through their newly released study, Research Scientist Dr. Scarlett Lin Gomez and her team have created the California Neighborhoods Data System, an extensive set of statewide neighborhood data to characterize the social, economic, and built ? or man-made ? environment in California.

The Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) is the nation’s premier organization dedicated to preventing cancer and to reducing its burden where it cannot yet be prevented. CPIC tracks patterns of cancer throughout the entire population and identifies those at risk for developing cancer. Its research scientists are leaders in investigating the causes of cancer in large populations to advance the development of prevention-focused interventions. CPIC’s innovative cancer prevention research and cancer education and community partnership programs, together with the Stanford Cancer Center, deliver a comprehensive arsenal for defeating cancer.

An article by Gomez and her team about the new database will be published in the April issue of the journal Cancer Causes and Control.

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Building healthier environments
Combining these neighborhood data with statewide cancer registry data will help them determine why certain types of communities get more cancer than others. Their work aims to inform changes leading to healthier environments and personal choices, and, ultimately, cancer prevention.

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Neighborhood cancer risk
Through the new database, which uses data from a number of sources including the US Census, the scientists now have access to specific data on how neighborhoods vary widely in California and are the first to be able to investigate how that variation impacts a person’s cancer risk.

“Cancer prevention is not just about making choices as an individual,” said Gomez. “Equally important is the environment around that person, such as his or her access to health care, affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, and the amount of support available from the community and neighbors. We hope to use this database to find out what kinds of neighborhoods are more beneficial to particular populations in terms of cancer risk and survival.”

Gomez and her team have compiled data on neighborhood characteristics such as social and economic resources, racial residential segregation, ethnic enclaves, distance to medical facilities, destinations in walking distance and street connectivity, all of which the scientists anticipate to be related to cancer risk as well as survival.

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