State officials to begin collecting health data to study Bayshore High School ‘cancer cluster’

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BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Health wants to know why so many alumni from Bayshore High School have been diagnosed with cancer. They just announced a brand new initiative to investigate this mystery.

The old Bayshore High School was demolished in 1999, but sadly it’s left a deadly legacy. Hundreds of alumni, faculty and family members have reported cases of cancer and rare illnesses.

Some blame contaminated water from buried diesel tanks or a nearby machine shop but no conclusive evidence has been found.

“It is a very complex issue to be able to do this type of epidemiology,” said Dr. Jennifer Bencie with the Florida Department of Health.

The Florida Department of Health announced a new effort to find answers. They are asking only alumni and faculty, past and present, to fill out a form and be included in a cancer study and Fill out a Patient Listing Form.

They are collecting medical information to officially determine if there is a cancer cluster. The data collection will run from Dec. 1 until Feb. 28, 2018. The Patient Listing Form will be verified to ensure that the person was indeed a student or faculty member at Bayshore High School. Also, it will help officials find whether a cancer record of the person can be found within the state cancer registry.

The statistical analyses will be performed to determine if the observed rate of specified cancer(s) were higher than expected.

Officials are isolating the study to cancer because “cancer is the only [health concern] that is mandated by Florida statute to be reportable to the Florida Department of Health. These are the data that will be used to calculate cancer rates and will be used to conduct the study to determine if the cases identified in Bayshore students and faculty represent a cluster.”

According to the CDC, a cancer cluster is defined as a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.

To be a cancer cluster, a group of cancer cases must meet the following criteria. Until all of these parameters are met, the group of cancer cases is often referred to as a suspected cancer cluster.

  • A greater than expected number

    • A greater than expected number is when the observed number of cases is higher than one would typically observe in a similar setting (in a group with similar population, age, race or gender). This may involve comparison with rates for comparable groups of people over a much larger geographic area, like an entire state.
  • Of cancer cases:

    • All of the cases must involve the same type of cancer, or types of cancer scientifically proven to have the same cause.
  • That occurs within a group of people:

    • The population in which the cancers are occurring is carefully defined by factors such as race/ethnicity, age, and gender, for purposes of calculating cancer rates.
  • In a geographic area:

    • Both the number of cancer cases included in the cluster and calculation of the expected number of cases can depend on how we define the geographic area where the cluster occurred. The boundaries must be defined carefully. It is possible to “create” or “obscure” a cluster by selection of a specific area.
  • Over a period of time:

    • The number of cases included in the cluster – and calculation of the expected number of cases – will depend on how we define the time period over which the cases occurred.

Some Bayshore alumni are critical of the way the study is being handled.

“Some of the numbers we have recorded is from the old Manatee Vo Tech as well, and I know that there are cancers in the surrounding neighborhood,” said graduate Cheryl Jozsa.

“My main concern is that the informational packets that are being required to complete the study or begin the study gets out to the proper number of people, because if not, this study will be minimally effective,” said Betty Lou Rocklein, who lost her daughter Denise to cancer.

Officials say if needed, they may extend the deadline. They expect the study to last about six months, with the findings to be released in fall 2018.

DOH has not said what will happen after the results are announced. Upon conclusion of the study, they will determine the most appropriate next steps.

The form can be found on the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County website. They must be hand delivered or sent by mail to:

The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County

Division of Disease Control and Health Protection

410-6th Avenue East

Bradenton, FL 34208

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