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Study: 9/11 Firefighters at Higher Risk for Cancer

10 Years Later, Illness Rates High Among Many First Responders
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

FDNY firefighter kneeled among rubble

Sept. 1, 2011 -- Sept. 11, 2011, will mark the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

For many, the physical and mental scars are still very real. Two new studies in the Lancet show just how real these health effects are for our first responders.

Male firefighters who were at Ground Zero are 19% more likely to develop cancer than firemen who were not at the site.

This finding directly contradicts a federal report released in July that found there was not enough evidence to link toxins from the fallen towers to increased cancer rates among the firefighters. This means that cancer would not be covered as a medical issue under funds set aside to help with the medical bills of first responders and volunteers.

Another study shows that rescue and recovery workers are still experiencing breathing issues and mental health problems one decade after exposure to the toxic dust and debris at Ground Zero.

Firefighters at WTC Face Greater Cancer Risk

There were 263 firemen at Ground Zero who were diagnosed with cancer in the first seven years after Sept. 11, 2011. This is more than would be expected in the general population of same-aged men, and more than what is seen among firefighters who were not at the disaster site.

The study only looked at male firefighters. It did not include other groups of people who were also exposed. It also only tracked firemen for seven years. This may not be long enough to get a firm handle on any potential increased risk for cancer, the researchers say.

“Prior to our study, very little was known about the 9/11-cancer connection,” researcher Mayris Webber says in an email. She is a senior epidemiologist at the WTC Medical Monitoring & Treatment Program in New York.

This study comes in the wake of the $4.3 billion James Zadora 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that was passed last December. This bill provides health care to 9/11 first responders for a host of illnesses thought to be related to time spent at Ground Zero. As stated, cancer care was not included in this bill, to great controversy.

Going forward, it may be, Webber says. “The bill requires periodic review of scientific and clinical data to determine if cancer or certain types of cancer should be added to the applicable list of WTC-related health conditions,” she says.

But not everyone is convinced that cancer risk is higher among first responders.

“The firefighter study goes against everything that has been known until this point, including the findings of studies funded by the federal government,” says Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. His organization is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

“This is an emotionally driven issue and everyone wants to help the heroes,” he says. But “we should not turn a blind eye to the science just because we have affinity toward the heroes.”

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