University of Iowa to do cancer cluster investigation at Hudson Schools

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -The University of Iowa is going to investigate after 12 teachers were diagnosed with breast cancer in less than a decade at Hudson Schools. The University will be able to help determine whether an environmental factor at the school contributed to the cancer cases.

“I know there’s a lot of people concerned about this and we’re just really happy to follow through,” said Mary Charlton, Associate Professor at the University of Iowa Department of Epidemiology and Director & Principal Investigator of the Iowa Cancer Registry.

The Iowa Cancer Registry looks into a handful of cancer cluster cases in the state each year.

“Since the mid 90′s we’ve done about 145 cancer cluster investigations,” said Charlton.

When teachers in the Hudson School District came forward with concerns about the number of breast cancer cases among staff the University of Iowa was approached to try and find an environmental cause. But doing so, is extremely difficult.

Investigations typically look at a given geographic area, something that’s helpful as the Iowa Cancer Registry keeps track of cases across the state and where those diagnosed resided at the time of their diagnosis.

This time they’ll be looking at a specific school instead.

“What we don’t capture in our registry is who worked where when. So in that case we’ll have to be provided with a list of all the people who worked there back you know several years so we can really understand,” Charlton explained.

It’s going to take district participation, that’s something Superintendent Dr. Voss is on board with knowing a cause still may not be found.

“It’s going to be difficult to find answers, I don’t know if there is going to be a correlation or a causation,” Dr. Voss said.

The University says even when an environmental cause isn’t found, they’re investigations can still be of value to a community.

“Even when we don’t find things you know one environmental source a lot times we can learn things about risk factors,” Charlton explained.

She says some common risk factors for cancer include tobacco or smoking exposure, lack of physical activity, obesity, dietary factors and alcohol exposure. Environmental factors are less commonly proved.

“Sometimes it’s things in the water, sometimes it’s things in the air, sometimes soil, that type of thing,” said Charlton.

Cancer cluster investigations typically take a couple of months to complete, but the more complex cases can take longer.

Only one cancer cluster investigation the University of Iowa has done has lead to further investigation by the CDC. That case was in Wellman in the 90′s where there was a brain cancer cluster. An environmental cause there was never pinpointed.