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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: 338079

Reported Deaths: 7523
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds23409440
DeSoto23069280
Harrison20064328
Rankin15119290
Jackson14743251
Madison10806227
Lee10568179
Jones8864169
Forrest8408159
Lauderdale7684243
Lowndes6917151
Lamar683789
Lafayette6502124
Washington5551139
Pearl River5060150
Bolivar4923134
Oktibbeha484798
Panola4739112
Warren4690127
Marshall4670106
Pontotoc442873
Monroe4293137
Union429179
Neshoba4232181
Hancock417788
Lincoln4148116
Pike3605113
Leflore3587125
Tate351488
Alcorn346474
Sunflower344994
Adams338488
Scott336676
Yazoo335673
Simpson319290
Copiah319068
Itawamba312480
Coahoma311585
Tippah300568
Prentiss295063
Covington287183
Marion281780
Leake281575
Wayne274643
Grenada267588
George266251
Newton258964
Tishomingo238070
Winston236284
Jasper227548
Attala223373
Stone219437
Chickasaw217560
Holmes197674
Clay194654
Clarke184480
Tallahatchie182742
Calhoun179432
Smith177535
Yalobusha170240
Walthall144448
Lawrence140026
Greene137634
Amite135643
Noxubee134235
Perry132438
Montgomery131544
Carroll125431
Webster119132
Jefferson Davis114234
Tunica113227
Benton105925
Claiborne104831
Kemper101429
Humphreys99833
Franklin86723
Quitman84319
Choctaw81819
Wilkinson76532
Jefferson70428
Sharkey51618
Issaquena1736
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 574737

Reported Deaths: 11492
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson839571589
Mobile46611857
Madison36938532
Tuscaloosa26841465
Shelby26769255
Montgomery25853624
Baldwin24213326
Lee16897181
Calhoun15210332
Morgan14990289
Etowah14721369
Marshall12855235
Houston11661292
Elmore10727217
St. Clair10587250
Limestone10535158
Cullman10323204
Lauderdale10044253
DeKalb9335191
Talladega8797187
Walker7659286
Autauga7456114
Jackson7295117
Blount7233139
Colbert6614142
Coffee6117131
Dale5393117
Russell467742
Chilton4666117
Covington4623125
Franklin447281
Tallapoosa4420157
Escambia425282
Chambers3880125
Dallas3707163
Clarke366462
Marion3413106
Pike326979
Lawrence3211101
Winston293972
Bibb282965
Geneva274283
Marengo259067
Barbour245161
Pickens239662
Butler237672
Hale232378
Fayette225064
Henry206645
Randolph196144
Monroe195041
Cherokee194548
Washington179339
Macon168352
Crenshaw165058
Clay163659
Cleburne159945
Lamar149738
Lowndes144854
Wilcox129831
Bullock126042
Conecuh119530
Coosa116729
Perry109928
Sumter108732
Greene98336
Choctaw63925
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Thursday will be another very hot and very humid day across Mississippi and Alabama. Many areas will be well above 100 degrees with the heat index, some even as high as 120 degrees in the Delta of Mississippi.
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