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Firefighters show elevated cancer rates

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Nov 21 (Reuters) Firefighters appear to have higher-than-average rates of several types of cancer, according to a new research review.

The analysis, of 32 previous studies, found that firefighters were at greater risk of prostate and testicular cancers, as well as the immune system cancers non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Eight additional cancers showed ''possible'' links to the job, according to findings published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Firefighters are exposed to many potentially cancer-causing chemicals released from burning materials. Though they wear a breathing apparatus and other protective equipment while fighting fires, researchers point out, they typically remove the gear when they're merely in the vicinity of the fire.

At the scene of the fire, toxic substances such as benzene, lead, uranium and asbestos can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. And at the firehouse, idling trucks expose firefighters to diesel exhaust.

The cancer risks seen in this latest study -- the largest to date on the subject -- imply that firefighters need better on-the-job protection, according to the study authors.

''Firefighters work in an inherently dangerous occupation on a daily basis,'' lead author Dr. Grace LeMasters of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine said in a statement. ''As public servants, they need -- and deserve -- additional protective measures that will ensure they aren't at an increased cancer risk.'' She and her colleagues based their findings on an analysis of 32 international studies that included more than 110,000 firefighters in all.

Across the studies, firefighters had double the risk of testicular cancer as men in other occupations, a 50 percent higher risk of both multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and a 28 percent higher risk of prostate cancer.

These findings ''raise red flags,'' LeMasters and her colleagues write, and point to a need for ''innovative comfortable protective equipment allowing firefighters to do their job without compromising their health.'' Another, more immediate measure would be for firefighters to shower as soon as they return to the firehouse, the researchers say. Other investigators, they note, have found that firefighters often say their skin ends up covered in soot after battling a blaze.

SOURCE: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2006.


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