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In March 2014, DHHS was contacted by residents of Rye, NH, reporting concern about the number of cases of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) among children living in, or connected with, the Rye area. DHHS investigated to determine whether a higher than expected number of RMS cases were present in the combined New Hampshire area of Rye and the surrounding four towns of New Castle, Portsmouth, Greenland and North Hampton (five-town area). DHHS identified cases of pediatric cancer in general and RMS specifically through the NH State Cancer Registry. The investigation included a comprehensive review of the scientific literature to identify potential causes of RMS.

In February 2016, DHHS published a report of its investigation. The investigation of rates of cancer occurrences in the five towns as compared with rates in Rockingham County found a small but higher than expected number of pediatric RMS cancer cases (fewer than 5 cases over a ten-year period). The investigation also found a small excess (fewer than 5 total cases) of a pediatric lung cancer called pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB).

The investigation did not identify a cause for the potential RMS cancer cluster. What is known about RMS and PPB does not currently link either cancer to a specific behavioral or environmental factor. Inherited or genetic predispositions to development of these cancers are possible.

The DHHS investigation and report is a first step, and further investigation into individual cases and risk factors is anticipated. DHHS is meeting with members of the five towns to gather additional information and will be providing updates on next steps as the investigation continues.

To receive updates on the cancer cluster investigation, please send an email to RMSInvestigation@dhhs.nh.gov.

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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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