Ewing Sarcoma — What’s Causing These Occurrences?

by admin on May 25, 2019

Cancers affecting young people in the Marcellus region are raising serious questions

Young lives at stake: Rural areas deserve answers on child cancers

EDITORIAL: Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 22, 2019

There are a lot of unanswered questions and troubled minds, not to mention sick kids, in some of the rural areas outside of Pittsburgh. It is difficult to accept that so many cases are occurring at random, and the lack of an official explanation only breeds frustration.

Rare cancers have been striking children and young adults in alarming numbers, sometimes fatally, in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. So far, health authorities have provided little insight into what is happening. They should be developing a plan for getting to the bottom of this health scare.

Carrie Simkovic, a Greene County resident who founded a foundation to help young cancer patients after her own son’s diagnosis, had it right when she told the Post-Gazette: “When you have a little town like ours and have so many cancers, you have to ask, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Elected officials and health authorities should be asking that question urgently.

Ewing sarcoma — a cancer of the bone and tissue — is so rare that the nation sees only 200 to 250 cases a year. But there have been at least 27 cases in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties since 2008.

The Post-Gazette also has documented other rare cancers among dozens of children and young adults in those counties — 10 in Washington County’s Canon-McMillan School District alone. The PG has documented 13 childhood and young adult cancer deaths in these counties since 2011, including three since 2015 in the West Greene School District.

Because the counties are a center of natural gas production, residents worry about environmental pollution as the source of the cancers. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group, has said there is no known link between fracking and childhood cancer. The operative word is “known.”

The fracking process involves carcinogenic chemicals, and some academic studies have linked low birth weights, birth defects and asthma to fracking. But that’s surprisingly little information given the high stakes.

Much more needs to be learned about rare childhood cancers and the possible role that environmental factors play in them. Southwestern Pennsylvania — home to a robust shale gas extraction industry, various sources of pollution and a frightening number of childhood cancers — is the right place to carry out that research. The right time is now.

So far, health officials have said little except that the Ewing sarcoma cases they’ve reviewed in Washington and Westmoreland counties don’t constitute official “clusters.”

But it is difficult to accept that so many cases are occurring at random, and the lack of an official explanation — for Ewing sarcoma and the other cancers — only breeds frustration. Cheryl Potter, a Fayette County resident whose son Joshua died of Ewing sarcoma in 2016, put it this way: “You never get solid answers, and that’s the worst part.”

State and federal officials should mobilize their resources, plus those of Pittsburgh’s health care community, for a long-overdue investigation into childhood cancer here. The findings could save young lives and help others, like Ms. Potter, make some sense of their loss.


See Also: Why are there high numbers of childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania? David Templeton and Don Hopey, The human toll – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Interactive, May 14, 2019

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