ALPINE State health officials are looking into the possibility that a rare cluster of leukemia cases may have occurred in Alpine.
The investigation was started when one Utah County man with leukemia raised concerns in early December about 10 others who might have the disease. The state Health Department conducted an environmental study, then tried to contact the 10 people for their medical history.
"We take these very seriously," said John Amadio, the epidemiologist assigned to the investigation. "At this point, we just don't know how bad the situation is."
Amadio said the environmental study, conducted in January, ruled out water contamination and radon as influences.
"There's no environmental factors that would contribute to leukemia," he said.
Of the 10 people, Amadio has found six. Two of those have returned questionnaires to him, and only one has been diagnosed with leukemia. Amadio said when he compiles enough data, if there appears to be a common thread of disease, he will begin comparing medical histories for links.
"We would look closer at the individual cases and where they've been and what they've done," he said. "It's a real detective process."
Utah County's leukemia incidence rate was about on par with the national average in 2004 the last year for which data are available according to the National Cancer Institute. A little more than 12 people per 100,000 had the disease. That number had been declining since an eight-year high of just over 13 people in 2002.
Dr. Wendy Breyer, a cancer specialist at nearby American Fork Hospital, said her hospital has seen two cases of leukemia from Alpine within the past five years.
"I would not call that abnormal," she said. "We see them, we treat them, but there hasn't been an explosion of any sort."
Amadio said he plans to focus on the names provided unless others voluntarily contact him. It's unclear what the threat to public health might be if there is a verified common link, he said.
"If they all eat a certain type of broccoli, if that was the only link, we'd have to look at broccoli," Amadio said. "That's how they found the E. coli in the spinach."
Investigations into possible clusters in Utah in the past have yielded mixed results. A recent claim in Lindon about high rates of thyroid cancer led to a study that showed the city's cancer rate was actually below the national average. But Amadio said another case he looked into led to the discovery that thousands of people along the Wasatch Front were contracting cryptosporiosis, much of it swimming in public pools.