Parents react to Cherokee County cancer findings

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -

Parents of children diagnosed with cancer are getting answers from the state health department.

Several Cherokee County parents wanted to know what’s caused a high rate of childhood cancer in their community.

Parents asked the state to look into what’s causing childhood cancer in Cherokee County.

A report back from the state health department says nothing is out of the ordinary when it compares to other counties in Oklahoma.

The report only shows findings up to 2015, but the health department says that’s the latest data available.

Parents told 2 Works For You the report doesn’t go far enough.

They want more recent data and testing to be done on the county’s rural water districts.

“I feel like we’re being lied to. that somethings being covered up. they’re giving us stuff. they’re pulling people and agencies into the mix. giving it all into the article, but where are the numbers? current statistics on the water sources,” said Melissa Jumper.

The state health department said in a statement in part…

“We are confident that an accurate count of pediatric patients residing in Cherokee County was captured within the assessment,”

The health department said it plans to continue to monitor the situation.

OSDH Report:

OSDH Report Shows Cherokee County Cancer Numbers Among Children Not Significantly Higher Than State

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reports that a community cancer assessment revealed no unusually high number of new cancer cases diagnosed among children (ages 0-19) living in Cherokee County. The OSDH analyzed data collected through the Oklahoma Central Cancer Registry (OCCR) on new cases among children in the county for all types of cancer and leukemia, taking into account population size and ages of those affected.  

In December 2017, the updated assessment report mirrored the conclusions of the original report (https://go.usa.gov/xnFer [go.usa.gov]) released in July 2017, indicating that the rate of new cancer cases (44) among children living in Cherokee County diagnosed between 2001 and 2015 (latest data available), was not significantly higher than the state and within the expected range. (https://go.usa.gov/xnMZ2 [go.usa.gov]). The assessment followed a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) step-by-step process for evaluating suspected clusters and statistically assessed whether the number of cases occurring in the community were greater than what would be expected.  An online information inquiry form (http://ow.ly/BWO130iEv73 [ow.ly] ) made available for families to complete showed that all cancer patient information submitted had already been reported to the registry from a diagnosing healthcare facility. A timeline of the complete assessment process is provided below:

  • March 2017 - OSDH receives first inquiries about elevated pediatric cancer cases in Cherokee county. Cancer types or suspected exposure not specified, some mentions of leukemia.
  • May 2017 -  Additional inquiries received from media, policy makers and community members. Inquiry Information Form was disseminated to the community.
  • July 2017 - OSDH publishes written report describing analysis findings, showing the observed number of all pediatric cancer cases fall within the expected range, not statistically higher than the overall state rates. A report was also disseminated to interested parties through OSDH Office of State Epidemiologist.
  • December 2017 - Updated OCCR data is added for repeat analysis, finding no significant difference.

“We are confident that an accurate count of pediatric patients residing in Cherokee County was captured within the assessment,” said Raffaella Espinoza, the OSDH Cancer Surveillance Coordinator. “However, this is an ongoing assessment process and the OCCR will continue to conduct periodic re-evaluations.” 

In February, a community stakeholder group including Cherokee Nation Health Services, state legislators representing Cherokee County and surrounding areas, clinical experts from OU Children’s Physicians Hospital and OSDH met to review and discuss the assessment methods, updated results and the importance of the continued surveillance. Among those attending were State Senators Wayne Shaw and Dwayne Pemberton and State Representatives Chuck Hoskin and Matt Meredith.

“I am pleased to see that OSDH continues to look into this issue. My office, along with Senator Pemberton, will continue to watch this problem,” said Representative Meredith. “Legislation that I introduced this year, HB2843, has made it through the first hurdle, passing the House Public Health Committee on February 27. It will now move forward to a full vote on the House floor. This bill requires that pediatric cancer diagnosis be reported based on the child’s legal address. OSDH currently requires and collects this information, but HB2843 will mandate the requirement in Oklahoma State Statute.”

 “The Cherokee Nation is deeply committed to the health of our citizens, particularly our young people, and will continue to work with our partners at OSDH to track, monitor and investigate cancer diagnoses in our jurisdictional area,” said Dr. Charles Grim, interim executive director of Cherokee Nation health services and State Board of Health member. “Unlike other health systems, Cherokee Nation is a closed health system so we are able to more closely track and monitor unusual or uncommon diagnoses of many diseases. This issue is important to our Cherokee communities, so we will remain vigilant and provide regular updates as they are available.”

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