Florida firefighters face a higher risk of skin cancer

An already dangerous profession may be more high-risk than expected.Florida firefighters have a slightly incre...

Posted: Dec 13, 2017 2:21 PM
Updated: Dec 13, 2017 2:22 PM

An already dangerous profession may be more high-risk than expected.

Florida firefighters have a slightly increased risk for developing skin cancer, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Prevalence of melanoma was 0.7% among Florida firefighters, 0.01% among the general population

Those firefighters who developed melanoma were diagnosed at a younger age than usual

The increased risk seen in that state raises questions about skin cancer rates among firefighters across the nation. So far, though, only Florida has been studied.

"Not sure we can extrapolate the Florida experience to the national level. We are not there yet," said Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, an author of the new study and an assistant professor of public health sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He and his colleagues continue to research the issue in the hopes of answering this and other questions.

Caban-Martinez and his colleagues created the Firefighter Cancer Initiative to learn more about what previous studies have shown: that firefighters have more risk for certain types of cancer than the general population.

"What is it about their work environment that could be increasing their risk?" Caban-Martinez asked.

The new study is based on one project within the initiative: The Annual Cancer Survey, a 127-item cancer questionnaire. A total of 2,399 Florida firefighters completed the survey, answering questions about risk factors for cancer and their behavior. On average, the respondents were nearly 42 years old and had been on the job for about 15 years.

Overall, 109 of the firefighter respondents reported skin cancer: Seventeen had melanoma, the most dangerous form, which is likely to grow and spread; 84 had non-melanoma, the most common and most easily treated type of skin cancer; and 18 had some unknown skin cancer type.

The frequency of melanoma was 0.7% among the firefighters surveyed and 0.01% among the general Florida population, the researchers found.

The firefighters were also diagnosed at much younger ages than usual, according to the study. The average age at diagnosis for melanoma was about 42 among the firefighters, versus 64 for the general US population.

Surprised by these findings, Caban-Martinez and his team became curious about what could be increasing the firefighters' risk for cancer.

"They do wear protective gear while they're out battling fires, but we've noticed that there are gaps in their gear coverage around the waist, around the wrists, around the neck," Caban-Martinez said, adding that those gaps may be where soot enters and changes some of their skin cells.

During the Industrial Revolution, chimney sweeps who cleaned away soot inside smokestacks developed scrotal cancer more frequently than the general population, he said. Today, soot is a well-researched carcinogen.

"The soot as they're sweating dripped everything into their groin area, and it would concentrate there, and hygiene at the time was not as good, so they would developed scrotal cancer," Caban-Martinez explained.

This relates to contemporary firefighters, he said, citing those now working on the California wildfires.

"All these firefighters are working extended shifts, and they're tired and exhausted, so decontamination procedures probably go out the window just because they got to get to the next fire," Caban-Martinez said. Firefighters sometimes just throw their equipment into the truck and then soot contaminates the fire station, leading to exposure and ultimately skin cancer, he said. This could explain the higher skin cancer incidence among the Florida firefighters.

Another potential explanation: Florida is a sunny state, and ultraviolet light may be synergistic with the carcinogenic chemicals, he said. Or some firefighters may be exposed to harmful substances when working a second job in, say, construction or landscaping.

The research team now wants to find out why and how firefighters are developing skin cancer at higher rates than the general population.

"We need to get down to the biology of it," Caban-Martinez said. "Figure out how to prevent them from getting it."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530325

Reported Deaths: 10966
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763971520
Mobile40908804
Madison34717503
Tuscaloosa25730452
Montgomery24314588
Shelby23401249
Baldwin21107307
Lee15856171
Calhoun14488314
Morgan14282279
Etowah13819353
Marshall12210223
Houston10557280
Elmore10044205
Limestone9954150
Cullman9649193
St. Clair9644242
Lauderdale9419241
DeKalb8825185
Talladega8214175
Walker7223277
Autauga6918108
Jackson6804112
Blount6651137
Colbert6292134
Coffee5506119
Dale4828111
Russell440638
Chilton4279112
Franklin425582
Covington4118118
Tallapoosa4019152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3547151
Clarke350861
Marion3113100
Pike310577
Lawrence299898
Winston274072
Bibb260464
Marengo249264
Geneva249077
Pickens234160
Barbour230757
Hale222677
Butler215969
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184445
Randolph179941
Monroe177340
Washington167039
Macon158750
Clay156156
Crenshaw152057
Cleburne148741
Lamar141934
Lowndes138653
Wilcox127030
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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