You can't see it but it's killing firefighters at an alarming rate.
Posted On: Feb 13, 2017
Unique to the firefighter is his work environment. The dangers at a fire scene are obvious: fire, smoke, building collapse, explosions, and so forth. Firefighters can see and study these dangers and, thus, prepare for them. However, there is a big unseen danger—cancer.
Today’s fires involve plastics, which are in everything—carpeting, furniture, TVs, appliances, combs, bottles, and even pipes and other building materials. When plastics burn, they typically produce much more smoke and heat than comparable wood products. Plastic smoke is also more deadly and may include carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, phenol, benzene, hydrogen chloride, hydrochloric acid, methane, and even hydrogen cyanide. If breathed in large enough doses, these gases can lead to immediate death and even in the smallest of doses can lead to cancer.3
Firefighter Mark Noble, who died of brain cancer, compiled the statistics below. They compare the likelihood of firefighters developing the following cancers to that of the general population:
Brain cancer: 3.5 times more likely in firefighters with 10 to 19 years of experience.
Leukemia/lymphoma: three times more likely.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: two times more likely.
Multiple myeloma: 2.25 times more likely; after 30 years, 10 times.
Bladder cancer: three times more likely.
Kidney cancer: four times more likely.
Prostate cancer: two times more likely.
Testicular cancer: 2.5 times more likely.
Colorectal cancer (large intestine): two times more likely.
Liver cancer: two times more likely.
Skin cancer: two times more likely. (3)
Breathing smoke is the primary culprit for these cancer rates, but skin absorption can also play a role.
Dr. Grace LeMasters, et al reported a direct correlation between the chemical exposures firefighters experience on the job and their increased risk of cancer. The study further indicated the need for enhanced protective equipment, in addition to the gear already provided, that would help prevent inhalation and skin exposure to known carcinogens. This study is the largest comprehensive effort related to firefighter cancer done to date.4 In other words, what firefighters either breathe in or are exposed to through their turnout gear very likely increases their chance of contracting cancer compared with other work environments. The hazards of the toxic, smoke-filled environment, combined with the immunosuppressant effects of ACTH, make firefighters a prime target for cancer.
Toxin awareness.It has been clearly demonstrated that firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing toxins and are falling victim to cancer at higher rates than the general population. Toxins kill normal, healthy cells before their time, which requires your body to replace these cells. The more toxins, the more cells are killed, and the faster your body has to increase production. We all know that sloppy work can result when it’s done too quickly, and this is exactly how cancer cells originate—from an error occurring in an overworked system. Once the error is in place, the body replicates the error, and cancer eventually results.12 This is the reason toxins are so deadly and why you must either avoid them or quickly remove them through proper nutrition.
Since it is best not to breathe toxins in the first place, firefighters must better manage their air consumption rates at a fire scene. Using air management techniques, firefighters can better monitor their air supplies to avoid breathing deadly smoke. The topic is now getting serious attention across the country
Cancer testing.A few cancers can be tested for, and early detection can save lives. For the general population, these tests are not recommended until age 50; but for firefighters, testing should begin at age 40. Firefighters will resist these invasive and unpleasant procedures, but it is the spouse’s job to force them to go! Make the appointments yourself!
Check for melanoma (skin cancer) once a year; monitor moles, and look for any changes. Prostate cancer testing requires a rectal exam and a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. For an excellent, in-depth look at how to fight or prevent this disease, see “Prostate Cancer: Fighting the ‘Fire’ Within,” by Jon Gillis.13 A colonoscopy can detect and often prevent colon cancer. Remember, the average cancer risk for a firefighter is three times that of the general population, so make your spouse get regular physicals and testing.