Is a rare brain tumor clustering on the Gulf Coast?

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Another child on the Gulf Coast has been diagnosed with DIPG, a rare and aggressive brain tumor. Mary Beth Ezell was diagnosed with DIPG on Halloween.

Her diagnosis came just several months after 11-year-old Aubreigh Nicholas passed away from the disease. They aren’t the only ones. WKRG knows of at least five cases along the Gulf Coast in the last eight years. 

That’s causing many to question if the cancer is clustering in our area. The CDC has a very specific set of guidelines to define a cancer cluster. DIPG does not meet those guidelines in our area or anywhere else in the United States.

Researchers who study DIPG say there is not enough information about the tumor to determine whether or not children in certain areas are more susceptible to get it.

“We don’t know what causes these tumors, so it’s difficult to find any association,” said Dr. Kathy Warren, a DIPG researcher with the National Cancer Institute.

200-300 children are diagnosed with DIPG each year. Researchers say while it may seem like there are a lot of cases in our area, the breakdown may not show that.

“Once you learn about DIPG it seems that it becomes more common,” said Dr. Warren. “If you figure 50 states, you’re going to have six children identified each year, so maybe eight over a decade is not unusual.”

DIPG is a very aggressive tumor. It wraps itself around normal cells, making it impossible to remove with surgery. Right now there is no cure, but researchers continue to work to see that we lose less children to DIPG.

Mary Beth Ezell’s family is raising money for her medical expenses through a GoFundMe page. You can follow her journey on Facebook.

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