Research conducted by the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), and published by The Lancet, provides evidence of an increased risk for cancers of all types among firefighters who were first responders on 9/11. The findings were released on Sept. 3, as American began to reflect on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. This particular study focused on rescue workers who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
According to The Lancet, “Respiratory illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder are known to be increased in those who survived the World Trade Center disaster, but data reported in this issue show that 9 years after the attacks, rescue and recovery workers continue to have substantial physical and mental health problems.”
While it is too early yet to find evidence of increased mortality among these workers, the research indicates that “An excess of cancer cases is reported in firefighters who survived the disaster..” according to The Lancet.
The study, titled “Early assessment of cancer outcomes in New York City firefighters after the 9/11 attacks: an observational cohort study” was published in Volume 378, Issue 9794 of The Lancet. Researchers studied cancer incidence and its potential association to exposure of New York City firefighters to known and suspected carcinogens at Ground Zero. The study examined the effect of these possible carcinogens on FDNY first responders in the first 7 years after 9/11/01.
According to the report, the study included 9,853 men who were employed as firefighters on Jan. 1, 1996. Researchers determined that “on and after 9/11, person-time for 8,927 firefighters was classified as WTC-exposed; all person-time before 9/11, and person-time after 9/11 for 926 non-WTC-exposed firefighters, was classifed as non-WTC exposed.” Explaining their methods, researchers state in the report, “We estimated the ratio of incidence rates in WTC-exposed firefighters to non-exposed firefighters, adjusted for age, race and ethnic origin, and secular trends, with the US National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) reference population.”
In its Findings summary, the report concluded that cancer incidence in firefighters exposed to toxins at the World Trade Center was about 1 in 10, while cancer incidence in the general male population in the U.S. was about 1 in 19. This incidence among the non-WTC-exposed firefighters also was about 1 in 19. This leads researchers to believe there is a “modest excess of cancer cases in the WTC-exposed” group.
However, researchers also caution that there has been a relatively short time period since the events of 9/11 and the exposures, while many cancers, such as mesothelioma, may have long developmental periods. They recommend continued follow-up including cancer screenings and prevention strategies.
Read the full FDNY post-9/11 cancer assessment.