Study: Firefighters More Prone to Cancer Risks

Researchers from the University of Cincinnati have discovered that firefighters may be more likely to develop certain types of cancer than workers in other professions.

According to findings published in the November edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Grace LeMasters, Ph.D., Ash Genaidy, Ph.D., and James Lockey, M.D., found that firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and have significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer than non-firefighters. The researchers also confirmed previous findings that firefighters are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.

The University of Cincinnati-led team looked at 32 previously published studies covering 110,000 firefighters – most of them full-time, white, male workers – to determine the comprehensive health effects and correlating cancer risks of their profession.

Firefighters Are Exposed to Many Carcinogens

LeMasters explained that firefighters are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer – including benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde.

These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and occur both at the scene of a fire and in the firehouse, where idling diesel fire trucks produce diesel exhaust.

"We believe there's a direct correlation between the chemical exposures firefighters experience on the job and their increased risk for cancer," said LeMasters, who is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and was the lead author of the study.

UC epidemiologists found that half of the studied cancers – including testicular, prostate, skin, brain, rectum, stomach and colon cance; non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; multiple myeloma; and malignant melanoma – were associated with firefighting on varying levels of increased risk.

More Protective Measures Needed

According to the researchers, their findings suggest that the protective equipment firefighters have used in the past hasn't done a good job in protecting them against the cancer-causing agents they encounter in their profession.

"Firefighters work in an inherently dangerous occupation on a daily basis," LeMasters said. "As public servants, they need – and deserve – additional protective measures that will ensure they aren't at an increased cancer risk."

"There's a critical and immediate need for additional protective equipment to help firefighters avoid inhalation and skin exposures to known and suspected occupational carcinogens," said Lockey, who is a professor of environmental health and pulmonary medicine at UC. "In addition, firefighters should meticulously wash their entire body to remove soot and other residues from fires to avoid skin exposure."

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