Research News

Extra cancers emerge in rescue and recovery workers at World Trade Center

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 28 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8647


The 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York killed close to 3000 people. It also exposed thousands of others to a toxic plume of dust and debris containing known carcinogens. Researchers recently reported early signs that adults who helped rescue and recovery efforts that day and in the months after the attacks had a higher than expected incidence of some cancers.

The researchers analysed data from the World Trade Center registry, a record of people who lived, worked, or went to school in lower Manhattan on 11 September, along with all rescue and recovery workers. In both groups the incidence of all cancers combined remained within the limits expected for residents of New York State during follow-up. However, by 2008 high standardised incidence ratios for prostate cancer (1.43, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.82), thyroid cancer (2.02, 1.07 to 3.45), and multiple myeloma (2.85, 1.15 to 5.88) signalled the possibility of extra cancers in adults involved in rescue and recovery. Cancer metrics for others on the register were no higher than expected at any time. Full analyses included more than 55 000 residents of New York State, mostly adults.

Cancers take time to develop after environmental triggers, say the authors, and follow-up continues. These are early signals and it could still be possible that they arose by chance in a study of 23 different cancer types, in two cohorts, over two time periods (earlier and later after the attacks). The researchers had limited numbers of individual cancers to work with, and they suggest that future studies combine data from this registry with data from survivors to boost power.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8647