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9/11 First Responders Have Significantly Elevated Risk of Cancer, Study Finds

Update Date: Apr 24, 2013 10:01 AM EDT

A recent study has caused the nation to shift its eyes from the current tragedy of the Boston Marathon to that of September 11. The study examined first responders to the World Trade Center attacks in the seven years after the attacks. Researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the New York Cancer Registry and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, among many others, have found that first responders on September 11 have a 15 percent increased risk for the development of cancer.

Participants in the study were those who participated in the rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts of the attacks on the World Trade Center. In the study, 85 percent of participants were male, 59 percent were white non-Hispanic, 58 percent had never smoked. The typical participant would have been 38 years old on the day of the attacks in New York, and had spent 57 days on the site. In total, there were 20,984 responders included in the study.

In the study, researchers found a 15 percent increased risk for cancer among those included, especially of thyroid, prostate and certain blood cancers. However, they note that the results may be skewed for a number of reasons, primarily because those included in the study receive substantial medical testing every year, which means that cancers may be caught earlier than the rest of the population.

The researchers suggest that the full cancer toll may not be known for a number of years, despite the fact that a significant portion of participants were directly exposed to known carcinogens in the wake of the attacks. The study only looked at the first seven years after the attacks, and many cancers are slow to take root. In addition, the people involved in the study were, on average, quite young at the time of the attacks.

Still, the researchers suggest that, had the attacks not occurred, the participants in the study would have had an even lower risk for the development of cancer than the general population. "WTC responders, like many employed populations, were substantially healthier than the general  population at the time when they began their service at the WTC site, and were therefore at lower risk of cancer than the general US population, which includes persons who are chronically ill, hospitalized, or otherwise unemployable," the researchers write. "Indeed, the WTC responder population was arguably even more fit than most working populations because many were in occupations that required periodic physical and mental fitness tests."

Currently, many first responders' conditions are covered by the World Trade Center Health Program. However, the program does not cover medical care for prostate cancer; by the looks of this and other studies that have come to similar conclusion, it appears that it should and will be added.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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