January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month. Occupational cancer among firefighters is the leading cause of line-of-duty death in the field. In fact, firefighters are twice as likely as the general population to develop certain types of cancer.
During the month of January, firefighters are urged to learn about their cancer risks and take steps to protect themselves. Support the brave men and women who fight fires during this Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month and beyond. Learn more about the risks firefighters face and what can be done about it below.
Firefighters and the Risk of Cancer
Both civilian and military firefighters are at risk of developing cancer. According to the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), 75% of the fallen firefighters added to the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial died from occupational cancer from 2015-2020.
Firefighters are at an increased risk of cancer because they are more likely to be exposed to a variety of different hazardous substances on the job. These materials can often include:
- Firefighting foam
- Other dangerous chemicals found in soot and smoke
“Pinpointing the exact cause of cancer is extremely difficult because firefighters are not exposed to just one agent. They are exposed to multiple cancer-causing agents. Because of the multiple exposures and the multiple routes of exposure…it is also highly unlikely for firefighters to get only one type of cancer.”
– Dr. Grace LeMasters, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiologist
Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month is an important time for the brave men and women who fight fires to learn about firefighter cancer risks and take measures to protect themselves.
Firefighting Foam and Cancer
Firefighters often have to work with aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) — more commonly known as firefighting foam — to put out high-intensity fires. This foam, however, contains dangerous chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Unfortunately, PFAS can build up in the body over time and cause many types of cancer, including:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer (colon and/or rectal cancer)
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Renal or kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Thyroid cancer
Despite these risks, the U.S. military mandated the use of firefighting foam beginning in the 1960s. Firefighting foam is still used by military firefighters today, though there are plans to phase it out by 2024.
For more than 40 years, Sokolove Law has helped thousands of victims who developed a disease through no fault of their own. This includes the brave firefighters who put their lives on the line at work.
Firefighters and Mesothelioma
One of the most dangerous substances firefighters may be exposed to is asbestos. This naturally occurring mineral was heavily relied upon in construction due to its fireproof qualities.
Asbestos is linked with several forms of incurable cancer, including mesothelioma, which is a rare and aggressive cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen.
An alarming study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) discovered that firefighter cancer rates were higher for all cancers combined. The study also showed a far higher incidence of certain types of cancers, such as mesothelioma.
“The population of firefighters in the study had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole.”
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Asbestos was widely used in buildings between the 1930s and 1980s. Because asbestos only becomes harmful if disturbed, it can be particularly dangerous to firefighters, who are unlikely to have advance notice of when a building might contain asbestos. This makes it virtually impossible to take precautions to prevent exposure to the deadly mineral.
Asbestos poses a threat to this day since many older structures still contain asbestos, putting firefighters at risk. This includes many residential, business, and municipal buildings, as well as U.S. Navy ships and shipyards.
If you or a loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working as a firefighter, contact Sokolove Law today to learn more about your legal rights.
How Firefighters Can Reduce Their Risks of Cancer
Firefighters can reduce the risks of cancer by following proper cancer prevention protocols, like:
- Cleaning suits and equipment upon returning to the station to remove toxic chemicals
- Getting routinely screened for cancers like mesothelioma — early detection can mean more available treatment options
- Wearing protective gear like personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs)
Generally, the best way for firefighters to reduce their cancer risk is to become educated on making the best choices at work and at home. With sound work practices, firefighters may be able to reduce their exposure to hazardous substances.
Ways to Participate in Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month
Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to support those who risk their lives fighting fires. It’s also a good time for these brave men and women to be reminded of their increased cancer risk so they can learn prevention tips to put into practice.
This Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, consider getting involved by:
- Participating in training programs
- Staying inspired to practice prevention by listening to survivor stores
- Spreading the word on social media with the hashtags #FFCancerMonth or #FightFFCancer
- Contacting policymakers in support of presumptive disability benefits for firefighters with occupational cancer