We could know by the end of the week whether or not the number of cases of glioblastoma in St. Lucie County are high enough to warrant an investigation by the health department.
The Florida Department of Health is getting closer to knowing what the number of cases in the county 'should' be, compared to the actual number of cases confirmed through WPTV's outreach, diagnosis codes at area hospitals, and the state's cancer registry database.
For now, local health officials and doctors are not sure whether the number of cases they are seeing should be of concern, but some doctors have had their own opinions for years.
Dr. Mark Perman at South Florida Radiation Oncology says he has sensed there was a higher incidence in the area for the last few years.
"I have this terrible sense that there is more of this than we would expect to see," Perman said.
He sees patients primarily from the Treasure Coast.
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While protecting patient information, Perman pulled the number of glioblastoma patients that have been seen at South Florida Radiation Oncology since 2015.
He found they have treated nearly 50 Glioblastoma cases since 2015, from Martin and St. Lucie County.
33 of those were from St. Lucie County.
"I'm not the only provider in the county, so I'm sure there are some patients with GBM that I'm not treating," Perman said.
We also spoke with Neurosurgeon Oszcar Szentirmai, who works with the Martin Health System.
"We do feel like we have a lot of brain tumor cases, if you will, specifically glioblastoma patients," Szentirmai said.
He looked at the Martin Health System diagnosis codes for the last 5 years to see how many malignant brain tumor patients they have treated.
"That's where we found close to 200 over 5 years and I expect at least a majority of those will be high grade astrocytomas, in other words, glioblastoma."
That count of 200 cases includes Martin and St. Lucie County. The Martin Health System also receives a few referrals from neighboring counties, such as Okeechobee or Indian River. The number is not representative of only glioblastoma cases, but Szentirmai says the majority will likely be glioblastoma.
He said it takes more time and research to dig deeper into their data to be more specific.
The diagnosis of glioblastoma is a tough one. "The truth of it is most people will live maybe a year," Perman said.
But, he says treatment options are slowly improving.
"5 years ago there was nothing," Perman said.
He treats some patients with a Cyber Knife, technology available at few Florida locations. But Glioblastoma, he said, does not receive near the funding for research as many other more common cancers.
That also means there is less research into potential causes and prevention methods.
They know genetics can play a role.
"There are some people who are genetically predisposed to getting some of these tumors. There are people who are susceptible and others who aren't," Perman said.
Szentirmai believes family history is not as common with this disease. He also says research supports that there are environmental factors.
"Environmental factors may cause a brain tumor. Ionizing radiation is one of them that's known."
WPTV's research has also uncovered potentially more than 30 cases in five years in St. Lucie County from patients contacting us or from people reaching out on behalf of the patients.
The numbers revealed from South Florida Radiation Oncology and the Martin Health System will not necessarily paint the whole picture. The doctors say their numbers are specific to their medical networks, and would not include numbers from other hospital networks such as Lawnwood Regional Medical Center or Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee, which could potentially treat other glioblastoma patients.
Patients can also be referred out of the area to hospitals in Miami, Orlando, Tampa or out of state. In those cases, it is also possible they are not accounted for by local hospitals.
Perman said some cases can be duplicated between medical networks. For example, he might see some patients who are also treated by Martin Health doctors.
Who can you contact?
Meghan.McRoberts@wptv.com, who is sharing her findings with health officials and local support group.
The GBM of St. Lucie County support group Facebook page (you will need to request to join).
Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County's Epidemiology Department at 772-462-3883
The Brockovich team's database
The Florida Department of Heath in St. Lucie County
Scripps Only Content 2018