Definition of Cancer
Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, there may be other causes. Early detection of cancer through screening is helpful in combating the terminal affects of many cancers. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.
- Studies have shown that firefighters have increased risk of certain cancers the longer they spend working in the fire service.
- Heat from structure fires adds to the danger of exposure to toxic chemicals – with every 5 degrees in increased body temperature, skin absorption rates can increase by as much as 400 percent.
- Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer that the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC and NIOSH.
- Cancer caused 70 percent of the line-of-duty-deaths for career firefighters in 2016.
- Firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at a rate that is more than five times that of the general population (IAFF).
- Firefighters have a 100 percent increased risk of contracting mesothelioma and testicular cancer (FCSN).
- Firefighters are at increased risk for injuries and chronic diseases, including kidney, ureter and pancreatic cancers, respiratory diseases and heritable genetic effects.
Studies Have Found that Firefighting is Associated With an Increased Risk for Development of the Following Cancers
- Bladder Cancer
- Brain Cancer
- Gastrointestinal Cancers
- Lung Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Prostate Cancer
- Testicular Cancer
- Urinary Cancer
Common Carcinogens Found in Residential House Fires
- Asbestos – A heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics, and is used in fire-resistant and insulating materials such as brake linings
- Arsenic – Arsenic-related compounds and alloys have been used in the manufacture of a wide variety of products including pesticides, wood preservatives, and glass products
- Benzene – Found in furniture wax, and common building materials (paints, adhesives, etc.)
- Benzopyrene – Is generated as a result of incomplete combustion of organic materials
- Polycyclic Hydrocarbons – Is generated as a result of vehicle exhaust and incomplete combustion of wood or other mixed organic materials
- Cadmium – Commonly used as a corrosion-resistant plating on steel, to color glass, and to stabilize plastics
- Chlorophenols – Some chlorophenols are used as pesticides, in antiseptics, and can be produced during the process of bleaching wood pulp to make paper.
- Formaldehyde – Commonly found in cleaning materials and engineered wood-base material such as medium density fiberboard (MDF)
- Glutaraldehyde – Used in the tanning process of leather, as a component in cleaning agents, and in the production of adhesives and sealants
- Hydrogen Cyanide – Used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers
- Orthotoluide – Used in the manufacture of more than 90 dyes and pigments and in synthetic rubbers
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls – Used in electrical equipment (e.g., capacitors), plasticizers, and lubricants
- Sulfur Dioxide – Is produce by burning materials containing sulfur, such as household and personal cleaning products.
- Vinyl Chloride – Used to produce PVC and can be found in furniture, upholstery, wall coverings, and housewares.
Gender Specific Risks for Female Firefighters
There is a recognized need for research examining gender specific cancers for women in the fire service. Due to the historically small sample size of female firefighters, gender specific risks have not been definitively established yet. However, the number of women, and their length of tenure in the fire service, continues to grow. Between ongoing scientific research and knowledge sharing, progress is being made to protect this subset of the firefighting community.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
- Treat every fire as a hazardous materials call – because it is!
- Wear SCBA through all stages of firefighting, including overhaul.
- Perform gross decontamination whenever leaving fire operations, preferably before removing your regulator.
- Bunker gear protects against heat – not carcinogens. In rehab, use wet wipes to remove toxic soot from your head, face, neck, underarms, and hands.
- “Shower within the Hour” – or as soon as possible after the incident.
- Change and wash uniform clothing, immediately upon returning to the station.
- Exchange hood with a clean one
- Ensure that all gear and apparatus are properly cleaned after the fire.
- Keep gear out of living and sleeping areas.
- Do not take contaminated clothing home or store in a vehicle.
- Refrain from using tobacco products.
- Pay attention to changes in your body. Know the warning signs that indicate something is wrong, and do not ignore them! Those may include:
- Changes in how you breathe
- Coughing up blood
- A change in your urinary habits, especially blood in your urine
- Unusual fatigue
- Any pain that doesn’t go away
- Participate in your annual medical screening at Well America. Early detection leads to better outcomes!
Cancer rates in the fire service are reaching epidemic levels. The following Best Practices have been identified to help reduce exposures to carcinogens. These are simple, cost-effective methods that firefighters can implement now to reduce the risk of contracting cancer.
Firefighter Cancer Support Network
The mission of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network is to help fire/EMS members and their families cope with cancer and to provide occupational-cancer awareness and prevention training nationwide.
IAFF Cancer Registry
A number of previous studies have identified several cancers for which firefighters are at increased risk. To help further characterize this increased risk the IAFF, in response to members’ requests, has developed a Cancer Registry. IAFF members or a family member can use this website to report a cancer diagnosis. In addition to reporting the cancer, members are being asked to complete the Wellness Fitness Initiative questions which will provide necessary information for the Cancer Registry as well as for the WFI efforts.
Firefighter Cancer Foundation
The Firefighter Cancer Foundation team donates their time to assist First Responders, firefighters and their families when faced with a cancer or occupational disease diagnosis. Donations can be made on the website below or mailed to the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 1640, DeLand, FL, 32721. For more information on FFCF programs or to become involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our toll-free number 866.411.3323.
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