In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began a multi-year study of nearly 30,000 fire fighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments to better understand the potential link between firefighting and cancer. The study was a joint effort led by researchers at NIOSH in collaboration with researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the University of California at Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, and supported in part by the U.S Fire Administration1. This study was completed in late 2015.
Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with a cancer and a 14% high risk of dying from a cancer than the general US population according to the NIOSH study2. The risk of diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is 1.5 times higher than the general population. NHL is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that is part of our immune system. Lymph tissue is found in many places throughout the body, so lymphomas can start almost anywhere, and can spread easily. NHL can also grow and spread at different rates, depending on which type it is. The good news is that NHL is highly treatable and even curable in some cases.
Currently there are no widely recommended screening tests for NHL, but early detection is still possible. The best way to find lymphoma early is to pay attention to possible signs and symptoms. One of the most common symptoms is enlargement of one or more lymph nodes, causing a lump or bump under the skin which is usually not painful. This is most often on the side of the neck, in the armpit, or in the groin. Other symptoms can include recurring fevers, drenching night sweats (enough to wet clothes or sheets), unintended weight loss, and swelling in the abdomen. More often these symptoms are caused by something other than lymphoma, but it’s important to have them checked by a doctor, especially if they don’t go away or get worse.
Dahm MM, et al. Occup Environ Med 2015;0:1–8.
Cancer Fact Sheet 2017. Firefightercancersupportnetwork.org Accessed 4 December 2017