MAR 15, 2017 8:10 AM PDT

Firefighters Face Cancer Risks

The image that comes to mind when we think of firefighters is that of brave professionals, willing to go into a burning building when everyone else is running away. They sign on for a job that is dangerous, stressful and usually not well paid. Many firefighters, similar to police officers, come from families where there is a tradition of working in the fire service. While the work they do is truly heroic, there is something besides a burning building or a wildfire that can take down a firefighter. That something is cancer. According to a CDC study, firefighters are at a higher risk for many types of cancer. It seems that even after battling deadly fires and saving lives, there is still another battle for these brave men and women to contend with, and the lives they must try to save are their own.
In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) undertook the daunting task of a multi-year study of nearly 30,000 fire fighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments. The point of the research was to better understand the potential link between fire fighting and cancer. The study was a joint effort led by researchers at NIOSH in collaboration with researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the University of California at Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, and supported in part by the U.S Fire Administration. The study was extensive and looked at many different areas of fire fighting, the cancer risks that firefighters encountered in their work and the substances that are more common in fires such as chemicals that are used in manufacturing, emissions from factories and motor vehicles and other pollutants that are present in major fires. It took a long time parse all this data into information that could be used to prevent illness in firefighters. While it began in 2010, it was only completed in late 2015 and the information is still being analyzed by many experts.
 
When compared to the general population, firefighters had higher rates of cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths. Specifically, the men and women who fight fires were especially at risk for digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers. Another factor that was not surprising, but still significant.was that they were at a much higher risk of getting malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer that results from asbestos exposure. Asbestos is prevalent in older buildings, which are more likely to have fires. It also used to be a common material in some firefighting equipment like hoses and protective gear.
 
The study was done in four specific steps. The population was first established by gathering data on 29, 993 firefighters from 1950 to 2009 in the three major cities identified (Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia). Next, from public records, the causes of death for firefighters were calculated. The third step was to assess the job exposure of as many fire service employees as possible. In that effort, the exposures of 19, 309 male firefighters were analyzed. Finally, comparing all this data to the rates of disease and death in the general population yielded the somewhat expected result that being a firefighter did carry with it an increased risk of many different cancers. Fire agencies around the country are working on ways to reduce the exposure and to protect firefighters as best they can, based on this data. 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
JUN 12, 2021
Cancer
Using astronomy to image cancer tumors
JUN 12, 2021
Using astronomy to image cancer tumors
In an interdisciplinary breakthrough, a recent study published in Science describes the development of a new platform, d ...
JUL 13, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Friend or Foe? New Cancer-Tracking Pen Guides Surgeons.
JUL 13, 2021
Friend or Foe? New Cancer-Tracking Pen Guides Surgeons.
Researchers have developed the first diagnostic “pen” that acts as a guide for surgeons, helping them distin ...
JUL 23, 2021
Cancer
Repurposed Antibiotics Show Promise Against Skin Cancer
JUL 23, 2021
Repurposed Antibiotics Show Promise Against Skin Cancer
In experiments with mice, researchers from the Netherlands have found that some antibiotics may be effective in tre ...
AUG 25, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Self-Assembling Molecules: A Potential "One-Size-Fits-All" Cancer Therapy
AUG 25, 2021
Self-Assembling Molecules: A Potential "One-Size-Fits-All" Cancer Therapy
A new study from the University of Huddersfield shows promising breakthroughs on the use of self-assembling molecules as ...
OCT 14, 2021
Immunology
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
OCT 14, 2021
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
  Antibodies are blood proteins with highly specialized functions: to recognize and eliminate bacteria, viruses, an ...
OCT 14, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Cancer-Sniffing Worms: The Future of Diagnostics?
OCT 14, 2021
Cancer-Sniffing Worms: The Future of Diagnostics?
Researchers have unlocked a way of sniffing out cancer in patients with very-early-stage pancreatic cancer. This time, i ...
Loading Comments...