Canonsburg, Pa. (KDKA) — Local families say they want answers after a string of rare cancer cases in Washington County prompted a state health department investigation.
The department released its findings this week, but they don’t answer why so many patients here have received the same diagnosis: Ewing’s Sarcoma.
Reporters and other members of the public weren’t allowed to sit in and listen to Wednesday morning’s meeting, hosted by Rep. Timothy O’Neal, but the families affected by the rare form of cancer told us this is just the beginning.
“Because I know there’s definitely more Ewing’s in Westmoreland and Greene and Fayette, along with Washington counties,” said Christine Barton.
Christine Barton is Mitchell Barton’s mom. He’s one of a handful of Canon-McMillan students who received a diagnosis of this rare cancer that causes tumors to grow on bones. The state Health Department said three cases occurred in the district from 2005-2017, but family members tell KDKA that several young people, including Barton, received the diagnosis in 2018.
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There are only 200 to 250 cases of Ewing’s Sarcoma that occur each year across the nation. For this reason, the Pennsylvania Health Department investigated the alleged “cancer cluster” in Washington County.
“It’s still an ongoing investigation and all the families here — they all have a right to know what’s going on and we have to feel sorry for them,” said Darla Bowman-Monaco, Canon-McMillan School Board President. “And when you Google Canon-McMillan — unfortunately, it’s our children that are affected by this.”
Many of the families who are affected wonder if environmental issues, such as natural gas wells in their immediate vicinity, could contribute to this alleged cancer cluster. The doctors and experts at Wednesday’s meeting said they have yet to pinpoint an environmental cause — if any.
“What they said is they’ve never had the ability to link an environmental factor to a causal relationship to this cancer, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they can rule it out either,” said Rep. O’Neal.
The Health Department’s report said it did not find a “cluster” and that it did not find higher cancer numbers in Washington County compared to the rest of the state for 3 periods: 1985-1994, 1995-2004 and 2005-2017.
KDKA requested the data from the CDC to provide context to those findings and find out where Pennsylvania’s numbers rank against the rest of the nation.
According to the CDC, Pennsylvania has the 3rd highest number of cancer cases at 79,335 with a population of 12,791,904 reported. Only Delaware and Kentucky rank higher for the rate of new cancers in the United States.