This was the first study ever to confirm this elevated risk, which is likely linked to asbestos exposure on the job.
Raleigh, NC (PRWEB) October 29, 2013
A five-year study of firefighters in three major U.S cities has confirmed what occupational medicine experts have suspected: Firefighters face a greater risk of mesothelioma and other cancers than the general public does.
The study, which was a joint effort of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Fire Administration, included close to 30,000 career firefighters in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. All study participants started working after 1950 and were followed through 2009.
The study found a two times greater risk of mesothelioma among firefighters than in the general U.S. population as a whole. This was the first study ever to confirm this elevated risk, which is likely linked to asbestos exposure on the job. Asbestos is the number one cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of internal body membranes that is otherwise extremely rare. Asbestos, a once-popular building product, is not considered a health threat when it is intact but becomes toxic when it is disturbed, such as might happen during a fire or a rescue operation.
To confirm the mesothelioma/firefighting connection, NIOSH officials made multiple trips to the participating cities to pour through thousands of health records, looking at firefighters’ work histories, positions held, and length of time in each position. Although the study, which began in 2010, was originally slated to include just 18,000 firefighters, researchers found greater-than-expected participation and cooperation from fire departments, allowing them to include a total of 29,993 firefighters.
The study also found a higher risk of several other types of cancers. Respiratory cancers like mesothelioma as well as digestive and urinary system cancers were all seen in higher rates among firefighters. Exposure to contaminants in dust, smoke and debris is believed to be the primary cause for these elevated cancer risks.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, affecting just 2,500 Americans each year. The goal of the firefighter study is to develop new guidelines and protocols to better protect firefighters from hazards like asbestos and thereby decrease their cancer risk. The study began in 2010. Additional findings are expected to be released next year. The findings were reported in an article posted online in the peer-reviewed journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. (http://oem.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/14/oemed-2013-101662.abstract)
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