‘Cancer cluster’ possibility has officials on alert

The wheels are in motion to address concerns of water contamination at Patrick Air Force Base and the possibility of related “cancer clusters” among Satellite Beach residents living nearby.

While county health officials and Patrick Air Force Base are being contacted about those concerns, including a variety of cancers and possible exposures, the Florida Department of Health is now working with the Florida Statewide Cancer Registry to determine if any additional assessment is required, said Florida Department of Health spokesman Devin Galetta.

Often suspected, an official cancer cluster designation is a rare status and seldom linked to a single cause. It is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 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.”

All of the cases must involve the same type of cancer, or types of cancer scientifically proven to have the same cause. Also considered is the exact population in which the cancers are occurring in terms of race/ethnicity, age and gender, according to the state.

It is also important to properly define the geographic area where the cluster occurred, as it is possible to “create” or “obscure” a cluster by selection of a specific area, Galetta said.

The next step in the process will be to determine whether the suspected cancer cluster is statistically significantly higher than what would be expected, according to the state. This step uses existing data and requires the determination of the study population, the cancer types, comparison population and statistical methods to be used.

From there, officials will determine the feasibility of conducting an epidemiologic investigation to determine whether the cases are associated with a common risk factor or cause. If feasible, the outcome of this step should include a recommended study design.

The actual Epidemiologic investigation determines if the exposure to a specific risk factor or environmental contaminant might be associated with the suspected cancer cluster.

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