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Firefighters and cancer in the USA

February 2023

Understanding and Reducing Firefighter Cancer, by US NIOSH Director Dr John Howard

In the USA cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters. Studies show that firefighters may have a greater risk of some types of cancer than the general population. For Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, NIOSH encourages everyone to learn more about firefighters’ cancer risk and how to reduce it.

Firefighters’ greater risk of cancer is likely due to their exposure to smoke and hazardous chemicals on the fireground. Fire settings contain various hazardous substances, including:

Firefighters can come into contact with these substances by being near burning materials or wearing dirty or improperly stored turnout gear.

Although we know firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing substances on the job and can have a greater risk of some cancers than the general population, questions remain. For example, many research studies have not included enough firefighters who are volunteers, female, or people of color to draw conclusions about their cancer risk.

To help answer these important questions, this year NIOSH will launch the National Firefighter Registry (NFR). The NFR is a voluntary registry of active and former firefighters with the goal of understanding and reducing cancer in the U.S. fire service. The NFR will collect firefighter health and work-related information and match that information with state cancer registries to support and advance our understanding of cancer in the fire service.

We are working diligently to make the enrollment process easy and secure for firefighters. Firefighters will enroll in the NFR via a secure web portal. Our NFR team has been pilot testing the web portal with firefighters and using the feedback to improve the enrollment process. We are looking forward to opening the web portal for enrollment to all firefighters soon.

When the NFR opens for enrollment, we encourage all U.S. firefighters, with or without cancer, no matter their length of service, to join. This includes active and retired firefighters; career, paid-on-call, and volunteer firefighters; structural firefighters; wildland firefighters; instructors; fire investigators; and other members of the fire service. The more firefighters who join the NFR, the more questions we will be able to answer, and the more evidence we can gather to support protocols and safeguards to protect the health and well-being of the nation’s fire service.

Thank you to every member of the fire service for their unwavering commitment to protecting our communities.

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