Study of Cancer among Firefighters

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Project Objective

A U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) research project to clarify the relationship between firefighter occupational exposures and cancer.

Project Summary

After examining mortality patterns and cancer incidence among a group of 29,993 U.S. career firefighters employed between 1950–2009 in the cities of San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia, the researchers found that:

The findings of this NIOSH study were reported in an October 14, 2013 article (PDF, 768 Kb) published by the international peer-reviewed journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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Background

USFA and NIOSH partnered on a study to examine the potential for increased risk of cancer among firefighters due to exposures from smoke, soot and other contaminants in the line of duty. This was a formal epidemiological study with medical oversight.

The primary objective of the project was to clarify the relationship between firefighter occupational exposures and cancer. The project improves upon previously published firefighter studies by significantly increasing the study group size and person-years at risk, and using a more detailed exposure surrogate metric in both the mortality and incidence analyses than are found in most previous studies. These improvements increase the precision of disease risk estimates.

This NIOSH study supported by USFA was intended to fill gaps in current knowledge and inform ongoing efforts to further characterize the cancer risk associated with certain exposures. By analyzing deaths and cancer cases among firefighters, NIOSH attempted to determine whether:

In collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the University of California at Davis – Department of Public Health Sciences, NIOSH researchers found that a combined population of almost 30,000 firefighters from three large cities had higher rates of several types of cancers, and of all cancers combined, than the U.S. population as a whole.

These findings are generally consistent with the results of several previous, smaller studies. Because this new study had a larger study population followed for a longer period of time, the results strengthen the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer.

Next Study Phase

In a second phase of the study, the researchers will further examine employment records from the same three fire departments to derive information on occupational exposures, and to look at exposures in relation to cancer incidence and mortality. Those findings, when completed, will be published in a future article.

About NIOSH

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injury, illness and death. NIOSH's research includes a national program to investigate fatal traumatic injuries and other causes of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters. More information about NIOSH can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh. Additional information about NIOSH's program to investigate firefighter deaths in the line of duty, and to make recommendations for preventing such deaths, can be found at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/.


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