Firefighters make their way over the ruins of the World Trade Center on Oct. 11, 2001, in New York. A new study has answered only a handful of questions about health risks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.(Photo: Pool photo by Stan Honda)
CHICAGO -- The most comprehensive study of potential World Trade Center-related cancers raises more questions than it answers and won't end a debate over whether the attacks were really a cause.
study suggests possible links with prostate, thyroid and a type of
blood cancer among rescue and recovery workers exposed to toxic debris
from the terrorist attacks. But there were few total cancers and even
the study leaders say the results "should be interpreted with caution."
study involved nearly 56,000 people enrolled in a registry set up to
monitor health effects from those exposed to the aftermath of the trade
center attacks. Most participants volunteered for enrollment, which
could skew the results if people who already had symptoms were more
likely to enroll than healthier people.
Cancers diagnosed through
2008 were included in the study, but that's just seven years after the
2001 attacks, and cancer often takes longer to develop. People diagnosed
with cancer before the attacks were excluded from the study.
rates were compared with those in the general New York state
population. But the researchers had no data on whether people in the
study had risk factors for getting cancer, including a strong family
history, or if they had existing cancer that wasn't detected until after
the disaster. Participants are being monitored for health issues and
may have gotten more cancer screening than other people, which also
could skew the results.
The increased risks were seen only in
rescue and recovery workers, who likely had more direct, sustained
contact with potential cancer-causing substances in the dust, smoke and
debris from the attacks. But cancers weren't more common in workers who
had the most exposure a finding that would seem to contradict the
theory that contact was the cause.
The study comes just a few
months after the federal government added dozens of types of cancer to a
list of illnesses related to the trade center attacks that will be
covered by a program to pay for health coverage.
The study results
"won't settle the question because it's still too early," said Dr.
Thomas Farley, New York City's health commissioner. "People are very,
very interested in this topic and we thought it was important to get the
data out that we have even though it is early."
O'Grady, dean of students at Pace University's New York City campus, was
at her office near the trade center during the attacks. She also lives
nearby, and said she worries about how exposure to choking dust, ash and
an "overwhelming burnt plastic smell" might affect her family,
including her then 1 1/2 year-old son. They are all enrolled in the
Cancer is her greatest concern and it's "always present in the back of my mind," she said.
from the city's health department led the study, which was partly paid
for by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH
spokesman Fred Blosser said the agency welcomes the results and that
longer follow-up is needed to examine risks for cancers with that take a
long time to develop.
The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
research from the same registry linked the attacks with respiratory
problems including asthma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
new study involved a broader array of people, including firefighters
and other emergency workers, along with residents and employees of
workplaces near ground zero, Farley said.
In the new study,
possible links were mainly seen with cancers diagnosed in 2007 and 2008
in rescue and recovery workers. These included 67 cases of prostate
cancer, 13 thyroid cancer cases, and seven cases of multiple myeloma
all at rates higher than in the New York state population.
Berry, a biostatistics professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson
Cancer Center in Houston, said the study has too many limitations to
draw any definitive conclusions.
"There's no evidence that 9/11 caused any of these cancers," Berry said.
pointed out that no increased risks were found for lung cancer a
cancer that might seem plausible after breathing lots of toxic dust and