IRSST Examines Association Between Firefighting and Cancers

Published January 10, 2019

A review of the recent literature on cancer in firefighters found that the epidemiological data provide little certainty about the association between firefighting and the development of some forms of cancer. Researchers from IRSST, a nonprofit scientific research organization in Québec, Canada, reviewed more than 600 publications produced between 2007 and 2017, and they deemed 25 publications to be relevant. According to IRSST’s report, the strongest evidence of association is an excess of mesothelioma cases among firefighters who were active more than 30 years ago. These cases are likely the result of asbestos exposure. Researchers found that lung cancer is not as strongly associated with the occupation of firefighter; however, since lung cancer is known to be linked to the same exposures, researchers could not rule out lung cancer as being occupationally related to firefighting.

The new review of recent literature found no conclusive evidence of association between firefighting and any other cancer type, but studies reviewed by IRSST and literature included in a previous review conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported more frequent cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancers among firefighters.

“Apart from mesothelioma, the data available from the current review was insufficient to fully conclude or to rule out any associations between cancer and occupation,” IRSST’s report reads. “There is some evidence of an association between occupation of firefighter and cancers of bladder, brain, colon/rectum, head and neck, kidney, esophagus, skin, and small intestine together with leukemia and multiple myeloma.”

The report stresses that all evidence of a link between firefighting and the prevalence of cancers must also account for the conclusions of other, earlier literature reviews.

IRSST’s full report is available on the organization’s website.