Mesothelioma, Other Cancers Higher Among Firefighters

A new study involving 30,000 firefighters strengthens the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer, the researchers said.

A new study involving a total of 30,000 firefighters from three large cities found they had higher rates of several types of cancers, and of all cancers combined, than the U.S. population as a whole. The findings are consistent with earlier studies, but because this one followed a larger study population for a longer period of time, the results strengthen the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer, the researchers said.

The findings by NIOSH researchers and colleagues were reported online Oct. 14 by the peer-reviewed journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The article is available at http://oem.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/14/oemed-2013-101662.full.

The researchers found that cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems accounted mostly for the higher rates of cancer in the study population. The firefighters had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole. The researchers said it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, and NIOSH noted this is the first study ever to identify an excess of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters.

The study analyzed cancers and cancer deaths through 2009 among 29,993 firefighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco fire departments who were employed since 1950. NIOSH headed the study and collaborated with the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Public Health Sciences in the University of California at Davis. The study was supported in part by funding from the U.S. Fire Administration.

A second phase of the study will further examine employment records from the three fire departments to analyze occupational exposures and look at exposures in relation to cancer incidence and mortality.

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