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Post 911 observational study: Firefighters at WTC may face cancer risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A large follow up observational study of firefighters in New York City shows firefighters at the WTC may face higher risk of developing cancer compared to their peers who were not exposed to debris during the emergency and clean-up.

For firefighters at the World Trade Center, the chances of developing cancer was found to be 32 percent higher than peers who did not work in lower Manhattan at ground zero.

The finding was extrapolated from data showing cancer that developed within the first 7 years of the 911 attack.

Information was obtained from health records of 9,853 New York City firefighters.

In the study, published in the journal Lancet, the highest risk for the firefighters was prostate cancer.

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Researchers haven’t determined why the risk of cancer is higher, but say it may be from “an amalgam of pulverized cement, glass fibers, asbestos, lead” and chemicals including PAH’s and toxic jet fumes from burning fuel.

The authors recommend the finding should be interpreted with caution, given the short duration of follow up and observational nature of the study.

The researchers note there may be “confounding factors” accounting for the increased cancer rates found among firefighters at the WTC.

Though prostate cancer was the most prevalent, the authors also warn the risk of cancer may not be organ specific.

The study, that can be viewed here, is observational and is an important note from the study authors. Cancer risk found among ground zero firefighters may be from other causes.

The researchers recommend careful follow-up, cancer prevention strategies and frequent screening for firefighters who worked at the World Trade Center following the 911 attack.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons