• Article

Investigating suspected cancer clusters and responding to community concerns


Abrams, B., Anderson, H., Blackmore, C., Bove, F. J., Condon, S. K., Eheman, C. R., ... Wartenberg, D. (2013). Investigating suspected cancer clusters and responding to community concerns: Guidelines from CDC and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. MMWR Recommendations and Reports, 62(8), 1-14.


This report augments guidelines published in 1990 for investigating clusters of health events (CDC. Guidelines for investigating clusters of health events. MMWR 1990; 39[No. RR-11]). The 1990 Guidelines considered any noninfectious disease cluster, injuries, birth defects, and previously unrecognized syndromes or illnesses. These new guidelines focus on cancer clusters. State and local health departments can use these guidelines to develop a systematic approach to responding to community concerns regarding cancer clusters. The guidelines are intended to apply to situations in which a health department responds to an inquiry about a suspected cancer cluster in a residential or community setting only. Occupational or medical treatment-related clusters are not included in this report. Since 1990, many improvements have occurred in data resources, investigative techniques, and analytic/statistical methods, and much has been learned from both large-and small-scale cancer cluster investigations. These improvements and lessons have informed these updated guidelines. These guidelines utilize a four-step approach (initial response, assessment, major feasibility study, and etiologic investigation) as a tool for managing a reported cluster. Even if a cancer cluster is identified, there is no guarantee that a common cause or an environmental contaminant will be implicated. Identification of a common cause or an implicated contaminant might be an expected outcome for the concerned community. Therefore, during all parts of an inquiry, responders should be transparent, communicate clearly, and explain their decisions to the community