Public health officials must set priorities to use resources at their disposal to safeguard people in the most cost-effective manner.
State officials now are dealing with a bit of a flap over remarks by Robert Indian, the state Department of Health's leading expert on cancer. He said recently he wants the agency to avoid investigations of cancer cluster claims as much as possible. Programs to detect and prevent disease are better uses of resources, he believes.
Not long after Indian's comment was reported, state health agency Director Dr. Ted Wymyslo said officials will study the matter and produce a written policy on how to deal with reports of cancer clusters. Clearly, he was attempting to stave off criticism the department minimizes the seriousness of such claims.
Indeed, some reports of higher-than-usual incidences of cancer turn out to be coincidences or entirely inaccurate. Indian's comment is easy to understand in that light.
But in rare situations, cancer clusters do exist and the public needs to know about them and to understand the government will, if appropriate, take action to lessen the risk.
While intensive probes may not always be in the public's best interest, the health department should not boot cancer clusters entirely off its priority list.