Firefighters face greater cancer risks

By Tom Nordlie • Published: February 9th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Firefighters risk their lives battling blazes.

But they also face less obvious health risks on the job.

Fires can send cancer-causing gases, mists and particles into the air, not to mention the products that result when numerous chemicals mix together.

Protective clothing and respiratory protection equipment don’t necessarily shield firefighters from these hazards.

Even during downtime at the firehouse, there’s a threat of chronic exposure to diesel exhaust from fire trucks.

A study published recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine assessed the risk firefighters have for contracting twenty-one forms of cancer.

The results showed a probable link between firefighting and four cancers. And eight other forms had a possible association with the job.

To conduct the study, researchers reviewed thirty-two previously published articles on cancer incidence in firefighters. They used statistical methods to crunch the data and reach bottom-line conclusions about the risks involved.

The final assessment they developed was called a summary risk estimate. It revealed whether particular cancers were unusually common among firefighters.

Multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer and testicular cancer were all classified as having a probable link to firefighting.

A possible connection was found for malignant melanoma and leukemia, along with cancers of the skin, brain, stomach, colon, rectum and parts of the upper respiratory tract.

The researchers suggested that better protective equipment could help cut cancer risks.

So here’s hoping science finds new ways to protect these first responders. After all, firefighters do the same for the rest of us.