- Nearly a dozen laboratory employees have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 20 years
- More than 1,000 former workers could also be at risk
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Health officials have launched an investigation into an “unusual” cluster of cancer cases among employees at a research center run by a major U.S. health care provider.
According to employees, four people are believed to currently work at a UNC Health lab in North Carolina and between 10 and 12 former employees have been affected by the disease over the past two decades.
Because of the “possible pattern” in cancer diagnoses, all medical students, staff and lab workers were warned last month, and the Centers for Disease Control will now begin an official investigation.
The institution estimates that over the past 20 years, more than 1,000 people have worked in the laboratory, McLendon Clinical Laboratories, which is located on the first floor of UNC Health’s main hospital in Chapel Hill.
UNC Health is a leading health system in North Carolina
The hospital management is trying to contact all current and former employees of the laboratory and has not revealed how many cases of cancer have been diagnosed in people who work or worked in the laboratory.
Stephen Finch, vice president of operations at UNC Health, said The Daily Tar Heel says hospital leaders are unsure if there is a correlation between lab activity and cancer diagnoses.
People working in the laboratory studied blood and tissue samples, as well as pathological test results. As long as the research is ongoing, the lab will remain open and do its work.
A UNC health spokesperson told DailyMail.com that the system does not have access to employees’ medical records to confirm their health status and that the investigation was initiated solely from individual reports.
Following the reports, UNC Hospitals leadership contacted the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to request an assessment of the situation by the state’s environmental and occupational epidemiology staff.
UNC also submitted a request for a health risk assessment from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
A health risk assessment is a study of a workplace to see if workers are exposed to hazardous materials or harmful conditions.
NCDHHS representatives visited UNC Hospitals on Jan. 23 to evaluate lab space. A full report is expected within three weeks.
Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health accepted UNC Hospitals’ request for a laboratory evaluation, which began Monday.
The hospital is currently awaiting more details.
The spokesperson added: ‘UNC Health is committed to working closely with the appropriate agencies during this process and to proactively and transparently communicating with our teammates and the community.
‘We plan to share more information as it becomes available. Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians, including our teammates across the state.’
The CDC website for unusual patterns of cancer states could be the result of behavioral risks, social determinants of health, occupational exposures, and environmental exposures.
Some of these patterns can be classified as a “cluster” of cancer, defined as “a larger than expected number of identical or etiologically related cancer cases occurring within a group of people in a geographic area over a defined period of time.” .
UNC Health is a nonprofit health care system owned by the state of North Carolina. It includes hospitals and medical facilities throughout the state and is headquartered in Chapel Hill, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
UNC Health hospitals have been nationally ranked among the top 10 hospitals in the United States.
The system is comprised of 15 hospitals, 19 hospital campuses and more than 900 clinics, along with the UNC School of Medicine’s clinical patient care programs.