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Victim Compensation Fund

Ground Zero and Cancer: The Surprising Side

October 24, 2013 | Michael Barasch

As the years have gone by since the 9/11 disaster, studies have repeatedly demonstrated an increased rate of many cancers among emergency responders and other survivors who had breathed the toxic dust at Ground Zero.

Except one. Somewhat surprisingly, statistics show 9/11 responders have experienced a lower rate of lung cancer than would be expected among the population. According to one study released in April 2013:

  • The incidence of thyroid cancer was 239 percent higher than what one would expect to find in a similar population.
  • The incidence of soft-tissue cancers was 226 percent higher.
  • Rates of blood and lymph cancers were 36 percent higher.
  • Rates of prostate cancer were 21 percent higher.

However, the incidence of lung cancer was actually 11 percent lower than expected.

How can that be, when those at Ground Zero were breathing so much toxic material into their lungs that they now suffer asthma at twice the rate of the general population?

Medical experts theorize that because lung cancer typically has an exceptionally long latency period — occurring on average about 20 years after exposure to toxins — it may simply be a late arrival in the 9/11 cancer rankings. Unfortunately, that means some survivors may be destined to discover that 9/11 gave them lung cancer long after the 2016 final deadline for seeking compensation for 9/11 injuries.

Similarly, another study found those exposed to Ground Zero had a lower mortality rate than the general population of New York City. Again, researchers point to the typically long latency period of the types of diseases attributable to the WTC attacks.

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