Apr 3, 2016 11:42 AM

Health officials look for causes for Seacoast cancer cluster, but warn results could be inconclusive

RYE - State health officials are looking for factors that could be linked to several cases of pediatric cancer on the Seacoast, but say the mystery may not be easy to crack.

"I think people should be aware that the majority of times, these types of cancer cluster investigations ... don't give an answer," State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan told the Union Leader. "And especially when you're dealing with such small numbers, it becomes very difficult to identify connections between exposures and cancers."

The state found fewer than five cases each of two rare types of pediatric cancer - rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) and pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB), according to a report released in February.

Chan said public health investigators will do their best to identify environmental or behavioral exposures that could be linked to the cancer cases and will also reach out to families who previously lived in the Rye area whose children were later diagnosed with cancer.

Detailed questionnaires will be sent out to affected families asking about a wide variety of risk factors from smoking or drug use to environmental risks such as exposure to chemicals.

The state also will look into concerns residents have about possible exposures such as the Superfund site at the former Coakley landfill in North Hampton.

Dr. Jack van Hoff, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, was at a recent public meeting in Rye and read the state report. He said it remains possible the cancer cluster is random and not a product of any particular exposure.

"Rare events do happen, and events that are randomly distributed sometimes wind up on the same street or in the same neighborhood or in the same town," he said.

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