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9/11 first-responders have higher risk of cancer, study by Rutgers professor finds

Judith Graber, an assistant research professor at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, found 9/11 first-responder were 40 percent more likely to get head and neck cancer.  – Photo by Photo by | The Daily Targum

A recent Rutgers study found a correlation between first responders from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and diagnoses of head and neck cancers. 

Judith Graber, an assistant research professor at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) and the lead author of the study, gave her insight about the findings to The Daily Targum.

Graber and her colleagues looked at a number of patients in a case series that was also published. They noticed that some of the patients were police or in the military. They were also younger than the average cases of head and neck cancer patients. It also seemed as though most of them had responded to the attacks on 9/11 itself.

“Particularly, we looked from 2005 to 2012,” Graber said. “We saw the increase in the later period from 2009 to 2012, and that’s important. When you think about if there is, and we’re not saying yet whether there is, but if World Trade exposure does contribute to people getting cancers in the head and neck, then that makes sense in terms of the length of time it takes to get cancer.”

The study found a 40 percent increase of diagnoses of these cancers between 2009 and 2012 for World Trade Center first-responders.

The purpose of this study is to explore the discoveries that can help clinicians working with those afflicted by the cancers have a better idea about what is going on, Graber said. Physicians and other clinicians who are treating these populations should be aware that there may be an increase risk for these cancers, and should raise their suspicions for head and neck cancers. 

Professor and medical director of the EOHSI Iris Udasin approached Graber in 2015 with the hypothesis that there is more head and neck cancers diagnoses among World Trade Center patients than the rest of the population.

“Dr. Udasin and I talked about what the possible mechanisms for this could be. Could it just be that people with these cancers are coming to her clinic, rather than other ones? Is it just that they’re coming because they’re in a monitoring program, so they’re seeing the cancers earlier, or is it maybe a real excess?” Graber said.

Since 9/11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have medically monitored certain people who were considered at a high risk of developing illnesses, Graber said. This includes people who worked or volunteered at the World Trade Center destruction site as examples of people who have been observed.

“If you are eligible for enrollment, then you are eligible for an annual exam,” Graber said. 

If someone has a health condition that is considered by the CDC to be a result of World Trade Center exposure, then they can receive treatment for their illnesses.

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