Epigenomic Changes

Relevance to SWEHSC: 

Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, who are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals through both inhalation and skin absorption. Measuring these exposures and determining the mechanisms by which they cause cancer are essential steps in learning how to reduce cancer risk in firefighters.

Firefighter exposure to carcinogens occurs through inhalation of smoke, diesel exhaust and other chemical gases, vapors and particulates as well as through skin contamination. The type of fire; the specific job task; when they put on, take off and clean their gear; and potentially how they clean their skin; all can affect the extent of chemicals absorbed internally.

Since cancer has a long latency period between exposure and the onset of disease, biomarkers also are needed that can measure the early toxicological effects of carcinogen exposure when interventions to prevent disease could be effective.

Cluster of Efforts: 


  • Jeff Burgess MD, MS, MPH

This initial three-year framework study will build on recent firefighter cancer prevention studies in Arizona and Florida, adding the Boston Fire Department and three volunteer and combination (career and volunteer) fire departments in Southern Arizona to the existing fire service partners, the Tucson Fire Department and multiple fire departments in south Florida.

“Future research grants will be needed to further expand the number of firefighters participating in the study. The goal is to continue the research for 30 or more years, which is the time it takes for many cancers to occur,” said Dr. Burgess.

“The work not only will help the fire service better understand how we are being exposed to carcinogens, it will lead to safer practices on fire incidents and improved protective equipment that ultimately will lead to fewer firefighter fatalities,” said Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

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