Head and neck cancers among a group of first responders to the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks are significantly higher than expected, a new study says.
Rutgers University researchers found that diagnoses of these cancers increased 40 percent in a group of WTC workers and volunteers over a four-year period.
The findings suggest there are emerging health risks among those first responders that require ongoing monitoring and treatment, according to the study.
"This excess occurrence in head and neck cancers is plausible since first responders inhaled debris clouds containing many known carcinogens," said study author Judith Graber. She's an associate professor in Rutger's School of Public Health and a researcher in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
"In addition, these carcinogenic exposures might add to or increase the effect of known personal risk factors for some head and neck cancers, such as tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol use and oral HPV infection," Graber added in a university news release.
Graber's team compared the incidence of head and neck cancers from 2003 to 2012 among 73 first responder workers and volunteers enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program with the number of expected cases based on the N.J. State Cancer Registry. (The health program involves nearly 34,000 in all).
They found a 40 percent increase in diagnoses of head and neck cancers among first responders between 2009 and 2012, according to the study. The results were published recently in the International Journal of Cancer.
Since cancers develop over time, the findings of significant excess cancer in this period "point to a newly emerging trend that requires ongoing monitoring and treatment of WTC-exposed persons," Graber said.
The findings stem from a two-year study examining whether WTC first responders were at greater risk of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related throat and tongue cancer because of their Ground Zero exposure. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the study.
The most notable increases were seen in throat cancers often associated with HPV infection, but not in mouth and nasal cancers.
The study also found that head and neck cancers were most common among first responders who were over 55, white, or members of the military or protective services and involved in rescue and recovery and maintaining the perimeter after the terrorist attacks.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on head and neck cancers.