There is not a cancer cluster among children in Elkins, according to an investigation by the Arkansas Department of Health.
The ADH in February began an investigation into a possible cluster involving several students in the Elkins School District. A news release last week said cancer rates in children ages 0-19 in Washington County were below the state level.
Washington County had a cancer occurrence rate of 15.4 per 100,000, while Arkansas had a rate of 16.4, the release said.
Elkins Schools Superintendent Jeremy Mangrum in February confirmed that five students reported having cancer over the past several years. He said on Monday that he was pleased the state found no cluster in Elkins.
The ADH sent out a news release last week to address the situation.
“The ADH began an investigation into the number of cases of childhood cancer in Washington County after a concern was raised by an Elkins-area community member,” the release said. “The ADH takes these concerns very seriously and has a process in place to investigate any suspected chronic disease clusters. When we receive a concern, we look at the information available about cases in an area, so that resources and recommendations can be provided to families and communities.”
After its investigation, the results did not indicate a cluster in Elkins.
“Our investigation found that there was not an excess of childhood cancer cases in Washington County; however, the ADH will continue monitoring Washington County and the state on an ongoing basis. Washington County was found to have a similar rate of childhood cancer as the state as a whole for 2001-2017,” the release said. “Provisional data for diagnosis years 2016 and 2017 were included in this analyses given the shorter latency periods for developing childhood cancer. Additionally, ADH reviewed 2018 and 2019 health records for any Elkins-area community concerns of suspected childhood cancer.
“Approximately 120 children aged 19 and younger are diagnosed with cancer every year in Arkansas. Approximately nine of those diagnoses occur in Washington County every year. Through the Arkansas Cancer Registry, the ADH reviewed all case information received from the community and will continue to actively monitor cancer rates across the state and investigate any community’s concerns.”
The news release said the ADH has a four-step process when it investigates a possible cluster.
Step one is when a suspected cluster is given over to the Chronic Disease-Cluster Investigation Team for evaluation. The team verifies the reported cases and calculates the expected cases in that area. The third step is when the team looks at possible exposures that could cause a cluster, while the fourth step is when the team and an expert advisory panel conducts an epidemiologic study.
The team looking at Elkins determined “that there was no statistical excess of childhood cancers for Washington County during 2001-2017. It also determined that Washington County had a lower Standardized Incidence Ratio (SIR) of 0.94 for 2001-2017.”
“Based on the findings to date, the team did not find enough evidence to proceed to Step 3 in the Guidelines for Investigating Clusters of Chronic Diseases,” the release said.
The ADH said an area must have an SIR greater than 4 before the investigative team would proceed to Step 3.
Elkins this past school year had 1,250 students enrolled in the district, with 393 at the high school, Mangrum said.