The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) determined that there has not been a cancer cluster in the Canon-McMillan School District. Last week, three representatives of the DOH presented their findings and hosted a question-and-answer session regarding the matter.
In February of this year, the DOH became aware of three diagnosed cases of Ewing’s sarcoma, an incredibly rare bone cancer, in the Canon-McMillan School District. All three cases were students of the high school. As community concerns rose, the DOH conducted a study using the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines for identifying a cancer cluster scenario. According to the CDC, a cancer cluster is defined as “a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time”.
Using data from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry (PCR), researchers at the DOH analyzed reported cases of Ewing’s family of tumors (EFOT) in the state over three individual time periods. Statistical analysis was conducted to determine if the number of cases reported was above the standard incidence rate, a metric that establishes the expected number of cases of a particular cancer. Their tests ultimately determined that, though these three cases were the first reported in the area since 1985, they did not constitute a cancer cluster.
The DOH did, however, discuss limitations to the study, with the sample size being most prominent. Representatives from the DOH stated that these types of studies are not usually conducted in a school district sized sample population, but rather, regional or multi-county sample sizes. Additionally, they noted that the study was only to establish whether there was a cancer cluster scenario, not the cause of these cases of cancer.
Many residents attending the event were not content with the study, questioning why three cases of the rare cancer would not be considered a cluster. Other comments focused on the cause of the higher rates of Ewing’s sarcoma in the area; many blaming the boom in oil and gas development, demanding that state representatives push for a total halt in the industry until they are ruled out as the cause. Others in the audience mentioned the uranium dump site located less than a mile away from the high school as a potential cause.
As of now, a study into the cause of these cases of cancer has not been conducted. In order to ensure the safety of Canonsburg’s residents, and for those in southwestern Pennsylvania, further studies and analysis should be conducted to identify and rectify any and all environmental causes of cancer in the area.