Cancer study unwarranted for Vermillion Area

Cancer study unwarranted for Vermillion Area by Doneen Hollingsworth Childhood cancers have been much in the news lately, as a result of the concerns of a group of parents who believe that there is a cancer cluster in Vermillion and that a state Department of Health investigation of the area is warranted.

As Secretary of Health, I can assure you that community health concerns are of paramount interest to the Department of Health. In response to the concerns expressed by this group of parents, our State Epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Patrick, has spent considerable time and effort reviewing the cancer data available for Clay County.

Dr. Patrick has had telephone interviews with a parent of each child with cancer for whom correct contact information was provided and has reviewed all cancers among children younger than 20 years in Clay County as reported to our Cancer Data Collection System between 1992-1996. She has talked with medical school faculty and practicing Vermillion physicians and nurses to determine if any childhood cancers had not been reported to the system.

In addition, Dr. Patrick has worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency which has developed extensive, scientifically based guidelines for use in reviewing concerns like those raised in Vermillion.

As a point of comparison, when the CDC guidelines were used in Minnesota, out of 500 community requests for health cluster studies from 1984-1995, only six had the evidence to justify a study. Of those six, only one found anything of public health significance and that cluster arose from an unknown occupational exposure.

Department of Health analysis of available data found the following:

? Cancer overall is the second leading cause of death in both South Dakota and the U.S. as a whole and represents many diseases, not just one. The seven Vermillion area children reported in the local media as having cancer from 1992-1999 were diagnosed with six different types of cancer.

?A review of Clay County child deaths since 1985 and three similar counties in South Dakota determined that Clay County had no more cancer deaths than the three control counties.

?A comparison of overall cancer incidence rates (new cases in a geographic area in a select unit of time divided by the population at risk) found Clay County cancer incidence rates for 1992-1996 were lower than the South Dakota rates, which were lower than the U.S. average.

?A comparison of overall cancer mortality (type of death in a geographic area in a select unit if time over all deaths) found cancer mortality in Clay County for 1992-1996 was lower than for South Dakota, which was slightly above the national average.

Based on the application of the CDC guidelines and this review of the data, both in-house and with CDC, further study of these cancers is not warranted.

Even a single case of childhood cancer is a tragedy for any community. However, such cancers can and do occur by chance, not as a result of a common exposure, in smaller states and communities such as Vermillion.

A cancer investigation is not warranted but cancer prevention awareness and education is appropriate at any time because there is much we can all do to protect ourselves and our families from the major cancers. A healthful diet, regular exercise and cutting out tobacco use have all been shown to help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Regular screening, such as for breast and cervical cancer, can also make a difference in the early detection and treatment of cancer.

To provide additional cancer prevention education in the Vermillion area, the department is now working with such partners as the American Cancer Society, The University of South Dakota School of Medicine, and local health care providers.

Also, once the petitions circulating in the community have been submitted to us, we plan to provide a summary of our review findings, along with a list of cancer prevention resources, to those that sign and provide a complete address. Those who did not sign a petition can receive this same information by calling our Clay County Community Health Nursing Office at (605) 677-6767.

Those who are interested in becoming even more directly involved in cancer prevention activities are encouraged to contact the American Cancer Society at (605) 224-7836 and find out about volunteer training opportunities planned for September in Vermillion.

I encourage all South Dakotans to learn more about cancer prevention from the many available resources. Good places to start are the Department�s web site at http:/www.state.sd.us/doh/Links/cancer.htm or the National Cancer Institute Cancer Information Service at http:/ cis.nci.nih.gov or 1-800-4-CANCER.

In closing, let me say that the community concern evident in Vermillion over the health of its children is admirable. With a strengthened focus on cancer prevention, this concern can translate into a healthier community for years to come.

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