Firefighters responding to 9/11 at increased cancer risk
Firefighters exposed to toxic dust and fumes clogging the air after the World Trade Center towers collapsed 10 years ago are more likely to develop cancer, according to a new study.
When compared with firefighters who did not work at ground zero, firefighters working the pile were 19% more likely to get a cancer diagnosis.
According to the research, published Thursday in the Lancet medical journal, the increase occurred during the first seven years after 9/11.
“We excluded cancers that might have been diagnosed early (that may have existed before the attack) … and we still see a 19% increase,” said Dr. David Prezant, chief medical officer at the New York City Fire Department and the study’s lead author, in a recent interview with CNN. “When we put those cancers back in, we see a 32% increase.”
It is an unexpected finding considering that for most cancers, the latency period — the time between exposure to a carcinogen and expression of disease — tends to span decades.
“My initial bias was that for the first 10 or 15 years we would not see an increase,” said Prezant. “That’s another reason I think our findings are so strong, because I actually thought we would find the opposite.”
One theory about how cancer might develop so soon among responders is that the unique characteristics of ground zero dust, and the sheer number of chemicals contained in it, may have accelerated disease in responders.