A California woman, claiming bruises she suffered in a traffic accident caused her to develop breast cancer, last week was awarded more than $600,000 in damages.
The jury case, in Orange County Superior Court, is apparently the first such award in the country.
Cancer experts at the National Institutes of Health last week said there is no evidence that traumatic injury can cause cancer. "I'm surprised it would even stand up," said Dr. Marcia Browne, an oncologist with the National Cancer Institute.
The only major study of trauma as a cause of cancer -- performed in the mid-1970s at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota -- found no relation between injuries and cancer, according to Browne and Dr. John J. Mulvihill of NCI. The study, involving bone cancer, found that people without cancer had just as many bone injuries as those with cancer.
Mulvihill attributed the common belief that injuries cause cancer to "selective memory" -- getting cancer leads people to remember unrelated injuries.
Many cancers are believed to be caused by cell damage, such as by radiation or cigarette smoke. But that is damage to chromosomes, Mulvihill said, not the kind of damage done in an accident.
In the California case, doctors testified that the cancer developed on the exact place where Pamela Rock, 32, of Anaheim Hills, was bruised by her steering wheel in the accident, and that cancer rarely appears in such a position on the breast.
She had a double mastectomy. According to court records, there was a history of cancer in her family.