NIOSH Study Confirms Firefighters' Higher Cancer Risk

"California has the largest statewide cancer registry in the country," NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, M.D., said. "This focused study generates novel findings for firefighters of various race and ethnicities and strengthens the body of evidence to support the association between firefighting and several specific cancers."

A new NIOSH study evaluating firefighters in the statewide California Cancer Registry found they had increased risks for several major cancers, and that black and Hispanic firefighters had increased risks for more types of cancer than white firefighters. For the purposes of the study, only adult male subjects were included. The study identified 3,996 male firefighters with cancer.

The agency notes that firefighting is considered one of the most hazardous occupations and involves regular exposure to known carcinogens. This study used data from 1988-2007 and found firefighters have increased risks for several cancers, including melanoma, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the esophagus, prostate, brain, and kidney. Black and Hispanic firefighters, unlike white firefighters, also had increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myeloid leukemia, and cancers of the tongue, testis, and bladder.

"California has the largest statewide cancer registry in the country," NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, M.D., said. "This focused study generates novel findings for firefighters of various race and ethnicities and strengthens the body of evidence to support the association between firefighting and several specific cancers."

The study is available online from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. It included more firefighters with cancer than any previous study, allowing the authors to assess the association between firefighters and the development of 32 different cancers in all firefighters combined, and also in firefighters of various races and ethnicities. Fourteen of the 32 cancers assessed had significantly elevated risks in one or more firefighter groups.

For access to a copy of the study, visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.22466/abstract. For more information on the health and safety of firefighters, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/firefighters/.

According to NIOSH, most studies of firefighter cancer risks were conducted prior to 1990 and do not reflect risks today's building materials.

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