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Updated Jan 11, 2023

Study shows higher rates of cancer in firefighters

A study published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine, "Scottish Firefighters Occupational Cancer and Disease Mortality Rates: 2000-2020", has outlined that "UK firefighters suffer significant excess mortality from cancer and other diseases when compared with the general population".

The study looked at mortality from cancer and other diseases in Scottish male firefighters between 2000 and 2020 compared with the general Scottish male population and expressed as standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) (with 95% confidence intervals, CI).

Results from the study showed that Scottish firefighters were nearly three times more likely to die of cancer. Some specific cancers seemed to occur most, including:

  • prostate, which was 3.8 times higher;
  • leukaemia, which was 3.17 times higher; and
  • oesophageal, which was 2.42 times higher.

The study concluded that "preventative health monitoring and presumptive legislation are urgently required to protect UK firefighters' health."

Fire Brigades Union national officer, Riccardo la Torre commented on the findings:

"This is a study that should horrify fire services and the government. This is about firefighters dying who did not need to. We know that there are clear ways we can make things better for firefighters. We need health surveillance. We need monitoring of exposures. We need legislation that will ensure that affected firefighters are given the compensation they deserve. At the moment we are sorely lacking in all of these areas. It is high time that ends. We cannot lose any more firefighters unnecessarily. Lives are being lost amongst our friends and colleagues and it must stop. We need to catch problems early and mitigate problems early."

Professor Anna Stec, Professor in Fire Chemistry and Toxicity at the University of Lancashire, who led the study said:

"This is the first study of its kind in UK and the research brings to light the wide range of occupational hazards that firefighters face. It's important that firefighters can continue to do their jobs as safely as possible, and the research shows that measures such as health monitoring and reducing exposure from contaminants at the workplace will play an important part in protecting firefighters."