Rare cancers prompt Pa. Health Department reviews
The rare Ewing sarcoma cancers that struck 12 children and young adults in southeastern Westmoreland County between 2011 and early 2018 did not reach the threshold to be considered a statistically significant cancer cluster, a state health department spokesman said Thursday.
“We looked at all the cases and determined there was not a statistically significant cancer cluster,” Health Department spokesman Nate Wardle said. He said the department completed its review of the Westmoreland County Ewing Sarcoma Project in May 2018 but continues to investigate reports of six cases of Ewing sarcoma in and around the Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County over the past 10 years.
Ewing sarcoma is a cancer that attacks the bones and soft tissue surrounding the bones of children and young adults.
The incidence of the relatively rare cancer that has no known risk factors — about 200 to 250 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States — continues to raise questions with families facing the daunting diagnosis.
Those questions prompted Maureen Grace, a Westmoreland County teacher and lawyer, to join Saint Vincent College professor of anthropology and public health Elaine Bennett and Cynthia Walter, a retired professor of ecology and toxicology, to document the statistics in the Westmoreland County project.
Wardle said public concern in Washington County, specifically in the Canon-McMillan School District, prompted the department to launch an investigation into all cancers there with a focus on radiation-induced cancers and the Ewing’s family of sarcomas.
“We have received calls from concerned members of the community, who were worried about the cancer risks to children in the area and possible environmental risk factors. Some of those who contacted us mentioned historic radiation sources in the area, and this prompted us to analyze the radiation-related cancers, in addition to the Ewing’s family and childhood cancer in general,” Wardle said of the ongoing study in Washington County.
He said the department expects to release the results of that study next month.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .