October 19, 2015 5:30 pm


City Cop Cancer Rate Increased 50 Percent In Wake of 9/11 Work


ELI KLEINMAN: Had predicted five-fold increase.  

Cancer rates in the NYPD have risen about 50 percent since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a long-term study published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Warned on Monitoring

Dr. Eli Kleinman, the department’s chief surgeon, warned two years ago while working on the study that cops should carefully monitor their health because rates of certain cancers were rising.

The results confirmed those concerns, though the rates were much less alarming than the five-fold leap he predicted in 2013, based on the raw data.

Dr. Kleinman and his team, along with scientists at Columbia University Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical College, studied the medical histories of 39,946 officers who were active-duty on 9/11, tallying cancer diagnoses from 1995 to 2014.

What They Found

After adjusting for age, they found a roughly 50-percent increase in all cancers after Sept. 11, with especially alarming rates of four specific types. Brain and kidney cancers more than tripled in frequency; thyroid cancer rates more than doubled, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma appeared 68 percent more often.

All 668 officers diagnosed with cancer after Sept. 11 served at one of the World Trade Center sites after the attacks, as did nearly all of their colleagues. They performed rescue and recovery work downtown, sifted through remains at a temporary morgue, worked at the Fresh Kills Landfill or a Medical Examiner’s Office location, or helped to transport debris on Hudson River barges.

The researchers couldn’t accurately determine wheth­er those most exposed to the toxic dust cloud after the attacks got cancer more readily. Many officers were exposed in multiple ways, and researchers lacked detailed data on the exposure levels of those who had not developed cancer.

Most at Ground Zero

But the researchers did find that 81 percent of the officers who developed cancer after 9/11 served downtown at the Trade Center site sometime in the year after the attacks. Fifty-six percent of them were there within the first 24 hours.

The scientists warned that their results should be “interpreted with caution,” particularly when looking at the rates of individual cancer types, since there are few cases to observe. But they called for first-responders to watch their health.

“More than half of the original NYPD responders have now retired, underscoring the need for continued monitoring of this cohort while the opportunity exists, particularly as many of the reported increased cancer sites long remain asymptomatic, eluding diagnosis until late stages,” the authors wrote.

They cautioned that because many of the officers were enrolled in the World Trade Center monitoring program, there was a possibility that more screening led to more cancer findings. But the four cancers researchers were most concerned about—brain, kidney, thyroid and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—were “not prominently featured in awareness campaigns, nor easily lent to self-examination,” they noted.

The overwhelming majority of officers with those cancers were diagnosed because they had serious symptoms, not due to routine screening. The authors also examined their histories for other risk factors—family history of the disease, living near a nuclear plant, or exposure to other hazards on the job.

The researchers noted that NYPD officers were likely to be healthier than the general population. They were able to determine smoking history only in about two-thirds of the officers with cancer. Just 16 percent of them were smokers.

Still Not Clear Why

Some other types of cancer, such as lung, colon, female breast cancer, and acute my­e­lo­genous leukemia, were also elevated after 9/11, but it isn’t clear whether the increases are due to exposure to the toxic dust. Rates may look higher simply because screening is more common.

The NYPD study is the largest to look at Sept. 11 cancer among cops. It follows several studies of other first-responders, including groundbreaking reviews of firefighter health that showed elevated rates of cancer among them.

Though studies of FDNY firefighters have shown different rates of cancer after Sept. 11, Dr. Kleinman in an interview cautioned that comparing studies on the two groups would be misleading. The methodologies were different, and firefighters are exposed to a variety of toxic substances on the job that police officers don’t encounter.

More NYPD officers have now died of Sept. 11-related illness than perished on the day of the attacks.