Imagine you’ve been given millions of nearly identical puzzle pieces and asked to assemble them to reveal a subtle, almost indiscernible pattern. Now imagine that many of the pieces needed to complete that pattern are missing.
Teasing out environmental links to breast cancer poses colossal challenges, as tumors may form years or even decades after an exposure to a carcinogen. The work is painstaking and incremental—but not impossible. Critical to Silent Spring Institute’s work in uncovering clues to the environmental causes of breast cancer has been the development of custom-made tools.
Silent Spring scientists have developed and honed such research instruments as a geographic information system, a web-based mapping tool, and a spatial proximity tool. They have produced a series of maps to create printed and virtual atlases. And they have devised new methods for collecting and analyzing environmental samples. All this inventiveness has been paying off: These tools have not only helped generate important findings in the search for preventable causes of breast cancer, but they have also allowed other researchers to locate missing puzzle pieces as well.