WRAL Investigates

State: Wake students' illnesses not a cancer cluster

Posted December 6, 2013

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— About a year after a Wake Forest mother pushed the state to investigate why several local teenagers were battling a rare form of cancer, state officials say they have found no cause or reason to classify the cases as a cancer cluster.

Three of the teens lived within 3 to 4 miles of each other and were in the same graduating class at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School. They all battled Ewing sarcoma – a cancer so rare that only about 200 people under the age of 20 in the U.S. are diagnosed with it each year, according to the state's report.

Alex Harris, Zach Osborne and Carly O'Day were all diagnosed within 18 months of one another and are all now in remission. The state has so far identified five people total between 2009 and 2012 who were diagnosed with the rare disease living in the same Wake Forest ZIP code. State officials say there could be more.

After the WRAL Investigates team reported on the teens’ story in late April, the state began investigating. In a report released Dec. 3, the North Carolina Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) found that the cancer cases occurred within the same Wake Forest ZIP code by chance.

“OEEB was not able to identify any common environmental exposures that were likely to be associated with Ewing sarcoma,” according to the report’s findings. “In addition, the CCR (North Carolina Central Cancer Registry) did not find a higher incidence of Ewing sarcoma in Wake County compared to what would be expected for 2008-2012.”

“There was not enough data that showed that it could be classified as a cancer cluster,” said Julie Henry, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. “One of the things that also came out of part of this investigation is the reality that our cancer reporting mechanism isn’t always as timely.”

Cancer information is sent to the state from hospitals and doctors. It now comes in at least six months after treatment. The teens’ families say they want it reported 30 days after diagnosis.

“I think they missed a rare opportunity to actually find one of the causes to Ewing sarcoma, because we waited too late,” said Robin Harris, Alex Harris’ mother. “Then, information gets quicker to the cancer registry, and then there’s going to be more of a chance of them finding a cancer cluster or problem sooner than in the case of what happened to our children.”

Julie O’Day, Carly O’Day's mother, says “there is no way it occurred by chance.”

“It’s a joke. They just don’t have an explanation for it,” she said. “I’m glad (WRAL Investigates) drilled them and got them to do this. I think the news program got them interested in doing this.

“So, I did have some satisfaction that at least they took the problem seriously, but I don’t think they delved into it deep enough,” Julie O’Day added. “Are more children at risk? I don’t know. I would like for this not to happen again to anyone else.”

13 Comments

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  • elsberry Dec 9, 2013

    There is more to the story. Ask them how many children that attended this school that live in this zip code have fallen ill with cancer while attending, or within a few years of attending this school. The CDC was supposed to be contacted, or at least that's what the NCOEEB told us they were planning on doing.

  • elsberry Dec 9, 2013

    So it's an isolated incident and not a cancer cluster. There's nothing wrong at all with WFRHS, right? Tell that to my son who went to school with these children and graduated within a year of them, or better yet, tell his oncologist who can't explain to us how a child the age of 16 at the time ended up with a cancer that was practically unheard of in people his age. Or tell that to the others who have had cancer who attended there, if they are still alive.

  • Kaitlyn Dec 9, 2013

    "Someone is hiding a pretty dark secret."

    If someone knew what causes this type of cancer they would win the Nobel prize in medicine. I doubt they would be keeping it a secret!

  • bji Dec 9, 2013

    Another cover up. It happened with Brookhaven National Labs in NY - they had leaks and the feds never cleaned it up and so many women had breast cancer. The federal gov't would let any American die to cover their own ess every day of the week!

  • Obamacare for one and all Dec 9, 2013

    Where's Erin Brockovich when you need her? Something was in the water the parents drank while pregnant with these children and it got passed onto them in the form of cancer.

    Someone is hiding a pretty dark secret.

  • mm23 Dec 9, 2013

    Stay on this! I am not a big believer in coincidence either. There are still 12 unexplained infant deaths and numerous birth defects at Fort Bragg. These families are not getting the whole story, or the truth.

  • Lady Justice Dec 9, 2013

    200 in the whole US population, and five live in a single zip code in/around the small town of Wake Forest???

  • baldchip Dec 9, 2013

    Not enough data hummm-dig deeper!! This is too strange to be coincidence!!

    Good job WRAL!! Keep this story alive!!

  • scubagirl2 Dec 9, 2013

    "Alex Harris, Zach Osborne and Carly O'Day were all diagnosed within 18 months of one another and are all now in remission. The state has so far identified five people total between 2009 and 2012 who were diagnosed with the rare disease living in the same Wake Forest ZIP code. State officials say there could be more."

    And THAT RIGHT there is why CDC should have been involved and not just state folks....hope the parents take this to another level.

  • scubagirl2 Dec 9, 2013

    I do NOT believe the state on this one. There is NO WAY this is just 'coincidental' no way at all.

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