Cancer Cluster Results

Federal researchers say a new study showschildren involved in a Fallon leukemia cluster are more prone to have a variation in a gene that helps combat unsafe chemicals. They also say more research is needed to learn the reasons why.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being made public today. It is the latest to suggest genetics and toxins play a role in the cluster. Since 1997, 17 children with ties to Fallon have been diagnosed with leukemia. Three have died.

Doctor Karen Steinberg is the chief science officer for the CDC's Coordinating for Health Promotion. She said at a media briefing in Fallon yesterday that the most significant finding is that researchers need to further investigate what's going on.

That suggestion is already being embraced by Nevada's Harry Reid, the incoming Senate Majority Leader. He said in a statement early today that it is "critically important" for the nation's top experts to find out why families in Fallon are losing their loved ones to cancer.

An earlier study headed by CDC failed to find an environmental cause for the cluster. It found Fallon-area residents had higher levels of tungsten and arsenic in their blood and urine, but there was no evidence it caused leukemia.

The latest study revealed that all 11 children with leukemia who were tested had a variation of a certain gene that tells the body how to fight off toxins.

By comparison, 10 of 24 healthy Fallon-area children who were tested had the gene variation.

CDC officials say even if the variation in the gene adds to the risk for leukemia, there must be other factors involved. But they say they still have not identified those factors or the cause of the Fallon cluster.

Richard Jernee of College Place, Washington, whose 10-year-old son, Adam, became the first child to die in the cluster in 2001, says the CDC waited too long to do the DNA testing.

But he says he hopes it can be used as a stepping stone to get to the truth of the cluster's cause.

While they have no plans to take any more samples in Fallon, CDC officials insist their work there reflects the most thorough study of any leukemia cluster in the country.