Leaders, doctors map out next step in cancer cluster investigation


HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. - The investigation into a cluster of rare eye cancer cases in Huntersville is now expanding.

Channel 9 first broke the alarming medical mystery in 2014. Four years later, we are still leading the way forward on this story.

Eyewitness News reporter Mark Barber was the only reporter in the room when the town decided the only way to try to find answers was to start taking additional steps.

“It’s difficult. We lost a child because of this,” said resident Kenny Colbert.

His daughter Kenan died of ocular melanoma in 2014.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the four to five years since then but we need to take a different direction now,” he said.

He thinks it's time to test the environment because experts agree that current genetic studies on patients likely won’t explain why there are so many cancer cases in Huntersville.

The rare cancer is usually found in 5 in 1 million people.

In Lake Norman, there are roughly two dozen cases.

“We’ve had to my knowledge at least four deaths from ocular melanoma in Huntersville and we’ve had just a local effort to take care of it," Colbert said. "We need national help to get something done.”

During Friday's town hall, the mayor and doctors had initially planned to continue focusing on genetic testing.

However, after worried families begged them to look for more partners and expand the investigation, the town agreed to dig deeper into the environment.

"Now we’re trying to determine what the next step is, in terms of should we do soil, air, electrical," said Mayor John Aneralla. "Let’s get the experts in the room and let them lead us to where we should go.”

The mystery is too big for town leaders to solve on their own so they’re also going to try to get the county and the state involved.

Huntersville will need more money and more partners to do more studies.

The city has already spent most of its $100,000 grant on genetic testing.

County Commissioner Pat Cotham is in favor of trying to see whether the county can help with research and resources.

“This is certainly a puzzle and a mystery and we certainly need a lot of voices at the table,” she said.

Colbert said, “We’ve got to find something so this doesn’t continue on for another X amount of years.”

The mayor said he doesn’t know if Huntersville will ever get the answers it’s looking for, but he promises town leaders will keep searching.