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Editor's Note
by Rick Markley, editor-in-chief

Cancer breakthrough is great news for firefighters

Firefighters face a greater risk of cancer, and gene therapy has the potential to reduce death and suffering

By Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

As if firefighters needed more risk in their lives, most research on the subject points to firefighters being as much as three times more susceptible to cancer than the general population. Given that as many as half of all men will have some form of cancer in their lives, that's saying a lot.

Studies are showing that firefighters run a higher risk of contracting such cancers as testicular, lung, prostate, brain, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Pay special attention to those last two.

The results of several gene-therapy blood-cancer treatments are beginning to take shape with astounding success — bringing people back from the brink of death. The treatment involves modifying a patient's blood cells to turn them into attack cells that fight off the cancer. One researcher called it a living drug.

It could take a few more years before the treatment is approved for use, but its projected cost is far less than transplants and some drug treatments.

The blood cancers that this treatment is having such great success on include lymphoma and multiple myeloma — two of the cancer strains firefighters are at increased risk of contracting.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see this gene therapy honed for better blood-cancer results and replicated to attack other forms of cancer. Likewise, it's not going too far out on a limb to predict that next year's results of the occupational study on firefighters and cancer will reaffirm the heightened risk.

It is exciting to think that we may begin to see within the next five to 10 years a significant reduction in the number of firefighters and retirees who die from cancer.

Of course, prevention is preferable to cure. So please, remain diligent in reducing firefighter exposure to known or suspected cancer-causing agents — be it in the firehouse or fireground.

Along those lines, take the time to watch these two video roundtable discussions on the effects of fire-retardant chemicals in our furnishings. The danger these present only increase when these chemicals are burned.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

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