A reported "cluster" of excess childhood leukemia cases and possible environmental causes in Woburn, Massachusetts, formed a key motivation for the events described in the popular book and motion picture A Civil Action. Although statistical methods to assess spatial clustering existed prior to the events in Woburn, increasing interest in environmental risk factors and recent developments in geographical information systems and data availability prompt increased attention to such methods and their application to public health data. In this article, we review statistical and epidemiological concepts involved in the analysis of disease clusters. We discuss data issues, outline some methodological approaches, and illustrate ideas using data regarding leukemia incidence in upstate New York for the years 1978-1982.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.