Cancer Wounds WTC Workers

Thyroid cancer and two other cancers more prevalent in WTC workers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When the World Trade Centers evaporated on 9/11, clouds of toxic chemicals were left in their wake. Researchers wanted to know the impact of these clouds on the health of rescue workers.

The heroes of 9/11 – the rescue and recovery workers who were on the scene – may have a higher incidence of prostate and thyroid cancers and the blood cancer multiple myeloma – than other New York residents.

These are the results of an observational study, the results of which need to be interpreted with caution, according to the authors.

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Jiehui Li, MBBS, MSc, of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and colleagues compared the number of cancers diagnosed among World Trade Center (WTC) workers with the cancer diagnoses in people who were not on the scene.

The authors wrote as article background that the WTC attacks “exposed hundreds of thousands of people to dust, debris, pulverized building materials, and potentially toxic emissions, resulting in short- and medium-term health effects.”

Health information was gathered on the 55,778 enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry (WTCHR). This included 21,850 rescue/recovery workers and 33,928 people who were not WTC workers. Participants enrolled between 2003-2004 and were followed until 2008.

Cancers diagnosed in 2007-2008 may have been linked to 9/11, according to the authors. Here’s what the data review found:

  • Three cancers – prostate, thyroid and the blood cancer multiple myeloma – were more prevalent among WTC workers, who were diagnosed in the later period – 2007-2008.
  • Of the three, the highest incidence was seen in thyroid cancer.
  • Nearly 1,200 cancers were diagnosed among the 55,778 people enrolled in the WTCHR.
  • 63 percent (748) of these cancers were diagnosed in people not involved in the rescue and recovery, with 37 percent (439) of the cases being among WTC workers.
  • When looked at in total, overall cancer incidence did not vary among WTC workers and non-workers.

While these numbers seem to demonstrate a trend, the authors say more research is needed. “Given the relatively short follow-up time and lack of data on medical screening and other risk factors, the increase in prostate and thyroid cancers and multiple myeloma should be interpreted with caution,” they wrote.

This research was published December 19 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).

The study was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which included support from the National Center for Environmental Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014