Channel 11 report prompts health department investigation of rare cancer cases

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Health is looking into cases of a rare cancer in the Canon-McMillan School District following a Channel 11 investigation.

Cara Sapida reported on Ewing's sarcoma, a condition that causes cancerous tumors to grow on the bones. Mitch Barton was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in December. Former Canon-Mac students Luke Blanock and Kyle Deliere died following their battles with the disease. Cecil Township resident, and Bishop Canovin graduate Curtis Valent, also died from the disease.

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The health department told Channel 11 it’s reviewing all cancer statistics for Washington County and the school district. Based on calls from concerned people in the area, the department said it’s focused on radiation-related cancers in addition to the Ewing’s family and childhood cancers in general.

The department said it has compared data from the state cancer registry to current cases to see if any specific cancer has elevated in a particular area.

There were zero cases of Ewing's sarcoma cases in Washington County in 2017 and four cases in the last 10 years. Data for 2018 is not finalized yet, the department said.

We’re told the cancer cluster investigation is still in progress, but results should be completed within the next month.


"His shoulder was sore, the doctor told him he slept on it wrong," said Cindy Valent, one of five parents who spoke with Channel 11 on Tuesday to share their child's cancer story.

There are only 200 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.

"You just keep hearing of another case and another person. How rare can it be? Why is there so many in this area?" said Roger Chambers, whose daughter, Alyssa, was diagnosed in 2008 and beat the disease.

Three of the young adults who were diagnosed grew up less than one mile from each other in Cecil Township, the other two just a couple of miles away.

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"We aren't here to look for blame, but for how rare it's supposed to be. We just need to make people aware of it," said Janice Blanock. "There is not data to prove this is environmental, but there is not data to prove it is not."

Concerns for people who live in the area include a former uranium plant in Canonsburg, where more than 200,000 tons of contaminated waste is buried. Oil and gas drilling sites are also a concern since there are approximately 1700 Marcellus shale gas wells in Washington County.

"It's not just Ewing's, it's a lot of pediatric cancers in the area," said Christine Barton. "I grew up here. I don't remember young kids getting sick."

All of the parents stressed they love the community and want it to be safe for future generations.

  • Luke Blanock: Canon Mac Baseball player, diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2013.
  • Mitch Barton: Canon Mac Baseball player, diagnosed in 2018 and currently undergoing treatment for Ewing's.
  • Curtis Valent: Cecil Township resident, Bishop Canevin grad and previous little league player in town, diagnosed in 2008.
  • Kyle Deliere: Canon Mac and Pitt Wrestler, diagnosed in 2011.
  • Alyssa Chambers: Canon Mac grad, diagnosed in 2008 and finished treatment in 2009.  She is a Ewing's survivor.
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