Firefighters have a 45% higher risk of colorectal cancer than the general population
According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, this occupational group is 1.21 times more likely to develop colorectal cancer than people who work other jobs. The disease is quite prevalent among firefighters, particularly among men. Sadly, colorectal cancer is the second most fatal malignant disease for both men and women, with only lung cancer causing more deaths in the U.S. than colon cancer. Most scientific research shows a colorectal cancer risk of at least 10% higher for civilian and military firefighters, but depending on how frequently they are exposed to hazardous products such as AFFF, the risk can increase to 45%.
Recognizing the early signs of colorectal cancer is essential for receiving a diagnosis as soon as possible. Some of the symptoms of this disease are:
- blood in the stool
- a change in bowel habits
- persistent diarrhea or constipation
- abdominal pain or cramps
- weakness or fatigue
- unintentional weight loss
A study from the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Pathology found that exposure to PFOA promotes colorectal cancer cell invasiveness. For patients who had a high PFOA level in their blood, malignant cell invasiveness was enhanced by up to 3.25 times compared to the control group. More specifically, the presence of this harmful chemical in the body stimulated the proliferation of DLD-1 cells, which are specific to colorectal cancer. It is important to note that the effects of PFOA exposure on cell invasiveness depend on cell, time, and dose.
Over 7% of male firefighters develop colorectal cancer due to PFAS exposure
The Fangchao Ma Florida study revealed that colorectal cancer was the third most common malignant disease among male firefighters. Furthermore, the risk of cancer in general for civilian and military firefighters is 250% greater than in people in other lines of work. PFOA and PFOS exposure might impact certain factors involved in the development and progression of colorectal cancer, such as:
- metabolic regulation
- chromosomal instability
- accumulation of somatic mutations
- loss of tumor suppressor genes
- activation of oncogenes
Upon examining the connection between colorectal cancer and PFAS exposure, a study from the medical journal BMC Cancer found a strong inverse, dose-response association with PFOS and a modest inverse association with PFOA. Inverse relationships are the ones in which the value of a parameter tends to decrease as the value of the other increases – in this case, the parameter that increases is PFOS and PFOA exposure. These inverse associations were stronger in patients diagnosed within the previous 6 years, and the relationship between PFOA and colorectal cancer was more striking in men and leaner adults.
Another source of PFAS exposure for firefighters is their very protective gear
In addition to being exposed to PFAS from the AFFF they often use, civilian and military firefighters also come in contact with "forever chemicals" through the very protective equipment they wear on the job. These substances are used in firefighter turnout gear to increase their ability to repel water and oil. Over time, as the gear deteriorates, PFAS are more likely to escape from it and create another health hazard for firefighters.
PFAS in turnout gear poses an unnecessary occupational threat, and because of this, in August 2022, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Metro Chiefs joined forces to:
- alert members about the health risks entailed by PFAS in turnout gear
- raise awareness of the need for turnout gear without PFAS
- recommend precautionary steps for members until next-generation gear is developed
The diseases colorectal cancer might be mistaken for in firefighters who used AFFF
Like nearly all toxic exposure victims, firefighters who used AFFF regularly and developed colorectal cancer are very susceptible to being misdiagnosed by medical specialists. The misdiagnosis rate among civilian and military firefighters is high, as most doctors are unaware of the array of diseases PFAS exposure can result in. Moreover, the symptoms of colorectal cancer mimic those of other health issues, which is another reason why misdiagnosis is so common. These are the diseases and conditions colorectal cancer might be mistaken for in firefighters with a history of AFFF use:
- inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
If you are or were a firefighter, have symptoms of colorectal cancer, and received one of the above diagnoses, we strongly recommend you to seek a second and even third opinion from different medical experts, as you might have been misdiagnosed. Not only is a correct diagnosis vital for your prognosis and the effectiveness of your treatment, but also for your AFFF claim eligibility. We can only assist civilian and military firefighters with colorectal cancer, as none of the above health problems except ulcerative colitis make one entitled to compensation.