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NIOSH update on U.S. firefighter cancer study

In 2010, NIOSH researchers, with funding assistance from the U.S. Fire Administration launched a multi-year study to examine whether fire fighters have a higher risk of cancer and other causes of death due to job exposures. Conducted from 2010 to 2013, study findings were released in 2016 and addressed limitations of previous fire fighter cancer research. The study included 30,000 firefighters from three fire departments: Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. All of the data for the study came from existing records including detailed work histories of the position(s) each fire fighter held and the length of time he/she spent in that position.

A summary of the findings from the NIOSH website with links to more detailed information follows.

Q: What did NIOSH find?
A: Among notable study findings:
• Fire fighters had more cancer deaths and cancer cases than expected.
• This increase in cancer was primarily due to digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers.
• There were about twice as many malignant mesothelioma cases than expected. Asbestos exposure is likely in fire fighting and is the primary cause of this disease.
• Some cancers occurred at a higher-than-expected rate among younger fighters. For example, fire fighters who were less than 65 years of age had more bladder and prostate cancers than expected.
• Increased bladder cancer mortality and incidence was observed among women fire fighters, although there were few bladder cancers observed.
• The number of deaths from all causes combined (i.e., not just cancer) among fire fighters did not differ from the expected number based on death rates in the general population.

Q: What should we conclude from the results?
A: The findings suggest fire fighters are at higher risk of cancers of the digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary systems when compared to the general population.
Additional information can be found from these studies by typing the url into your browser.
Findings from a Study of Cancer among U.S. Fire Fighters, July 2016 Fact Sheet
Frequently Asked Questions, NIOSH Firefighter Cancer Study, November 2013
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Study of Cancer Among U.S. Firefighters Project Background and Goals