Why does Putnam County have the highest rate of breast cancer among women in Ohio, and one of the highest rates in the nation? Putnam's breast cancer rate is 22 percent higher than any Ohio county, and 18 percent above the national average.
These figures require a thorough investigation, which fortunately is under way. The Putnam County Health Department has started a task force and state health authorities are reviewing the issue.
Uncovering exactly what the women have in common may not be as easy as it seems. Indeed, there are hot spots around the country for various types of cancer, and exactly why that's so is not completely clear. But a cursory search won't likely reveal an explanation. Only in-depth and intense research will explain why there are 160 cases of breast cancer in Putnam County for every 100,000 women.
The task force could be busy for some time. When it finishes studying high breast-cancer rates, it will try to figure out why that county also has the highest rate of ovarian cancer in the state, and whether the two are related. But first things first: Breast cancer's high numbers demand attention now.
The national rate for breast cancer is 135.2 cases for every 100,000 women. In Ohio, it is 131.6 cases. Next to Putnam is Allen County, and its rate is almost as high. But Paulding County, which also borders Putnam, has far fewer cases of breast cancer. The figures for Lucas and Wood counties are 125.3 and 125.9, respectively.
Putnam County residents deserve explanations. It's also curious that the greatest concentration of breast cancer is in Ottawa, the county seat. And imagine how distressing it was to learn that three women living in the same small subdivision were diagnosed with the disease.
Something is clearly amiss in Putnam County. Some suspect the drinking water, some say it's industry or contaminated land, or some combination.
The Great Black Swamp once covered Putnam County, and for more than half a century hundreds in the area worked at the TV picture-tube manufacturer, LG Philips Displays. While lifestyle choices and family history may be partial explanations, it is imperative to consider any role the environment might play.
Putnam County women and their families need answers. They deserve no less.