State to look into possible Huntersville eye cancer cluster after Channel 9 reports
By Jim Bradley
Patients with a rare eye cancer are now being contacted by health officials for more information about their cases.
Ocular melanoma strikes only five people in a million, but at least half a dozen cases have been found among people who have either lived or worked in Huntersville.
After months of complaints from patients and stories aired on Eyewitness News, state and local health officials are ready to conduct interviews into the possibility of a cancer cluster near Huntersville.
"I think this is great news," said Kenny Colbert, who received a letter from the Mecklenburg County Health Department this week.
Colbert's daughter Kenan died last spring after her eye cancer spread. Since then, he's been on a crusade to find out if there's a link between his daughter's cancer and other cases in the Huntersville area.
"I think we need to have some type of questionnaire to find out what these people have in common," Colbert said.
Last month, a group of 10 patients and family members came to WSOC-TV to express their frustration that North Carolina Health Department officials had not contacted them for any information about their cases even though the patients had been asking for an investigation since July.
When Eyewitness News pressed the state for answers, it admitted it should have been quicker to contact the families.
At the time, the state's lead epidemiologist promised action to take a closer look at the possibility of a cancer cluster near Huntersville and to conduct interviews to gather data about any possible common cause for the cancers.
Mecklenburg County health investigators are now in the process of contacting Huntersville's eye cancer patients to arrange meetings.
They will go through a lengthy questionnaire that's been developed specifically for their cancer cases.
Health Director Marcus Plescia hopes to have the questionnaires completed in the next 24 weeks. The data collected will then be analyzed for any common risk factors among the patients.
"I wondered if it would ever happen," Colbert said. "I'm excited to see this because it's a start."