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Home to the Firefighter Cancer Initiative at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine


Building a Scientific Roadmap for Cancer Control and Prevention in the U.S. Fire Service

The National Fire Protection Association estimates the U.S. firefighter workforce size to be approximately 1,160,450 firefighters of which 345,600 (30%) of are career firefighters and 814,850 (70%) are volunteer firefighters. Growing epidemiologic evidence suggests that firefighters are at increased risk of site-specific cancers from the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tract organ systems when compared to the general U.S. population. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed 32 studies and reported significant risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and prostatic and testicular cancers, concluding that firefighter exposures were possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B Classification). In recognition of these cancer risks, a total of 33 states cover firefighters for one or more cancers under workers' compensation as a result of presumption legislation.

Despite our improved understanding of major carcinogenic risk factors in the work environment, there has not been a widespread reduction in cancer incidence and mortality in the U.S. firefighter workforce. Firefighters continue to be exposed to hazardous contaminants from fires that are known or suspected to cause cancer. These contaminants include combustion by-products generated during fire suppression and overhaul activities such as benzene and formaldehyde and materials in debris including asbestos from older structures. The introduction of newer building materials may further expose firefighters to potentially new carcinogenic combustion products. The burning of plastics found in home appliances, furniture, and electronics may also introduce firefighters to new carcinogens. While the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) can reduce respiratory exposure to toxic particles during firefighting, PPEs are not always worn. For this reason, we have chosen the theme of this symposium “Building a Scientific Roadmap for Cancer Control and Prevention in the U.S. Fire Service”.

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