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Bradenton High School Investigated As A Potential Cancer Cluster

There has been concerns for years over a disproportionate number of cancer cases among former and current students, faculty and staff at a Bradenton high school. That has led the Manatee County School Board and Board of Commissioners to request a study from the Florida Department of Health.

Bayshore High School has been in operation since 1962, but the district’s electronic records of students only go back to 1985 and to 1993 for the staff.

Efforts to inform former and current students, faculty and staff of a potential cancer cluster have taken place. The school district has sent out more than 24,000 mailers to the last known addresses of those students and faculty.

A "cancer cluster," according to the National Cancer Institute, occurs when there's "a greater than expected number of cancer cases among a group of people in a defined geographic area over a specific time period."

The school was demolished in 1998, and the new building was built on the same land. It was originally a  junior high and became a high school in 1974.

A Facebook page, Bayshore High School, Bradenton, FL Concerned Alumni and Friends was started by Cheryl Lumsden Jozsa to find more people diagnosed with cancer, keep them updated on a potential study and offer support to those with cancer and their families.

In November 1999, Jozsa lost her older sister, Terri Leigh Lumsden Jewell, to leukemia. Within the following years, one of Jewell’s classmates also passed away from the disease. This sparked Jozsa’s curiosity.

Jozsa found it surprising that in the small graduating class of 1979, two students would pass away from leukemia.

“Their class was so small,” Jozsa said. “They only had 235 people in their class. How can two people from the same class both come down with leukemia? That’s kind of what started the thought process.”

In 2004, Jozsa started a website for those Bayshore faculty, staff and students that also were diagnosed with cancer or had lost loved ones to it. The website lasted about six years, until Jozsa started the Facebook page.

“When I learned how cool Facebook is, as far as the shareability and the social media connections, I discontinued using the website,” Jozsa said. “Word-of-mouth is about the only way we can do it, having people share it, tell their friends or neighbors.”

Jozsa did not have a specific number of cancer cases from the school population. While the school district has sent out mailers, she said that the majority of the people she has talked to did not receive them. 

“The school district claims they’ve sent out 24,000 letters to people from 1985 and forward,” Jozsa said. “Well, the majority of the people I have recorded are in an error of time, where they’re not going to get the letters. I think that’s huge.”

Jozsa wishes the health department had a plan to account for all those who attended or worked at Bayshore High School before 1985.

“If they don’t reach everybody, it’s going to be an inconclusive study,” Jozsa said. “Which is what I think they’re banking on. But that’s okay, because guess what? We’re not going away.”

The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County is asking former and current Bayshore High School students, faculty and staff who have or have had cancer to submit a patient listing form.

These forms ask for a brief medical history of the person diagnosed, the approximate date of diagnosis, what type of cancer they have or had and the name of the hospital or doctor that treated them. Submissions must be mailed or hand-delivered to the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection by March 30.

The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County will also be starting mobile data collection. The event will take place at State College of Florida on Feb. 17, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Once the collection period has ended, the department will submit the forms to the Florida Cancer Data System at the University of Miami. There, they will be compared to the state’s cancer registry database and analyzed by statisticians and epidemiologists. The results will determine if the number of Bayshore students and staff affected qualifies as a “cancer cluster.” Officials expect the results to be made public by fall of this year.  

Andrea Martin is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.