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Study Shows Cancer Rates Higher-Than-Normal in 9/11 First Responders



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September 11 of 2001 was one of the gravest days in American history. On that day, four airplanes were hijacked and used for suicide attacks on some of the nation’s most famous landmarks, with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City famously being destroyed. Years later, the effects of that terrible day are still being felt, in more ways than one.

A 2020 report, undertaken almost two decades after the Twin Towers attacks, suggests that cancer rates in the first responders who worked at Ground Zero to save lives and clean up the wreckage are notably higher than the average. This study further reinforces previous claims and evidence to show that those who were at Ground Zero are more likely to develop certain cancers.

An Overview of the Study

The study, which was published in January of 2020 in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum scientific journal, was undertaken by various scientists, led by Moshe Shapiro, who works as a bio=statistician at the Icahn School of Medicine in NYC. It was designed in order to detect the likelihood of increased cancer risks in Ground Zero responders.

In total, the study focused on close to 29,000 members of the WTC Health Program, centering almost entirely on first responders, which mostly included police and those who assisted with the recovery of bodies and wreckage clearance after the attacks. Various forms of data were used for the study in order to track the general health of the workers in the years after the attacks, leading all the way up to 2013.

The Findings 

The data gathered by the scientists was then analyzed and evaluated. The team found that, when looking at the health statuses of the workers, the group showed a particularly high rate of thyroid cancer. In fact, the rate of thyroid cancer among the workers was more than twice as high as the national average.

What’s more, the risks of leukemia was also significantly higher, and the chances of contracting prostate cancer was over 20% higher too. In total, the average chance of contracting any form of cancer was 9% higher in these first responders and recovery workers when compared to the national average.

The Reasoning

This study showed that those who were present at Ground Zero in the wake of the terror attacks of 9/11 generally have a higher chance of getting cancer as a result of their work and heroic actions. The scientists working on the study have then extrapolated the data and attempted to draw conclusions and find the reasoning behind this phenomenon. 

Dr. Henry Sacks, one of the authors of the study, stated that the dust cloud present over Ground Zero contained a wide range of chemicals and potentially dangerous, carcinogenic elements. It is believed that one of the most dangerous substances present at Ground Zero was benzene, which is used primarily in jet fuel and has been linked to leukemia.

Another expert, Dr. Leonidas Platanias of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that he was not surprised in any way by the findings of the study, explaining that cancers can take many years to grow, so it’s possible that the rate may even increase in these workers as they get older.


This study shows that those who were present at the site of the 9/11 attacks were not just putting their own lives at risk in order to help people and clean up the site of such a terrible atrocity, but also that they were putting themselves in danger of long-term health conditions. They bravely carried out their duties, in many cases working tirelessly through the days and nights to help the injured and recover the bodies of those who had been killed.

In some cases, the consequences of their actions could only be noticed decades later, when their cancers and other diseases, like lung disease and heart disease, began to appear, and many of those workers and first responders are now finding themselves facing fresh challenges and forced to seek legal help to get the compensation their actions deserve.

The fact that these individuals are still feeling the physical effects and risks of their exposure so many years later simply shows the extent of the damage done in September of 2001 and the many hazards that these workers faced. Doctors and scientists working on the study encourage all those who were present at Ground Zero to make healthy lifestyle decisions to reduce the risks of further health problems.

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Mahesh is leading digital marketing initiatives at RecentlyHeard, a NewsFeed platform that covers news from all sectors. He develops, manages, and executes digital strategies to increase online visibility, better reach target audiences, and create engaging experience across channels. With 7+ years of experience, He is skilled in search engine optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, and advertising, and analytics.

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