Researchers hone cancer studies

By SAM GALSKI (Staff Writer)
Published: August 19, 2011

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are inviting residents from parts of Luzerne, Schuylkill and Carbon counties who have been diagnosed with polycythemia vera or related blood disorders to participate in confidential interviews that will be conducted today at Hazleton General Hospital.

The team has interviewed about 50 people in Hazleton and at state health centers in Wilkes-Barre and Pottsville on Tuesday and Wednesday. It plans to conduct a final round of interviews today from 9 a.m. to noon at Hazleton General Hospital, according to Jeanine M. Buchanich, a Ph.D and research assistant professor from the university’s Department of Biostatistics.

Information from the interviews will help researchers confirm roughly 300 PV cases identified in the Pennsylvania  Cancer Registry – and possibly bring undocumented cases to light, Buchanich said.

The findings will be included in a study that will determine whether there is a continuing cluster of a rare blood disorder in the tri-county area that leads to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes and has no known cause.

The study will be completed by September 2012 and will serve as an extension to a study that was completed in 2008 and accounted for cases that were diagnosed up to 2005, she said.

“This study will be from 2009 through now,” she said. “The original study stopped in 2005. We’ve also added other conditions related to PV.”

Chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic idiopathic myelofibrosis and essential thrombocythemia are among blood disorders that researchers hope to document.

Buchanich reported on progress of the study at Thursday’s Community Action Committee (CAC) meeting at the Carbon County Communications Center in Nesquehoning.

She and other university researchers are working with the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry to contact and get permission to have people with documented PV and other blood disorders included in the study.

“There are over 300 cases identified so far and only 30 have sent in consent forms,” she said. “It’s been a struggle.”

A larger number of participants translates to a more accurate study, she said.

CAC organizer Joe Murphy urged residents to take part in the interviews. Information will be kept confidential and interviews will be conducted in a private office area at Hazleton General, Buchanich noted.

Those who participated in this week’s interviews weren’t all diagnosed with PV, but Buchanich said the group was successful in securing information that could be used in the study.

Researchers originally proposed conducting additional interviews next month, but a representative from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry who participated in the meeting via speakerphone said they hope to have much of the information-gathering completed by the first quarter of 2012 so officials can review information and have a final report available later in the year.

Dr. Henry Cole, who also took part in the CAC meeting via speaker phone, urged ATSDR officials to be as transparent as possible as they prepare and release final versions of the study.

Cole called on the federal agency to release a preliminary findings report – so the public can digest that information and compare any changes or agency comments to a final version.

CAC members brought Thursday’s meeting to a close discussing ways various state and federal environmental officials can develop a correlation between environmental conditions and PV and cases involving blood disorders. Cole suggested monitoring fly ash sites, installing deep monitoring wells at the McAdoo Superfund site and evaluating sediment and sampling water at the Still Creek Reservoir. CAC member Robert Gadinski said a water sample taken at the reservoir yielded high lead readings at 75 parts per billion and that the water during a recent period of heavy rain turned orange, which could indicate acid mine drainage issues.

Gadinski also noted that a water hole drilled in Kline Township that was originally planned as a source for public consumption had been taken off line because of high arsenic levels.

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