Three Belgian firefighters in turnout gear practice putting out a fire on a burning vehicle.
13 Jan 2023

2022 study shows firefighters are up to three times more likely to die from some types of cancer


Firefighters are more than three times as likely to die from certain types of cancers than the general population, according to a new study. 

According to an article in The Guardian,  the study has been carried out by Dr Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire. 

The study was commissioned by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) in the UK. It has studied more than 600 mortality records from male firefighters available from the National Records of Scotland.

The various carcinogens firefighters are exposed to during, and after firefighting,  are assumed to be the cause of the cancer cases. The most common, toxic chemicals listed are benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and toluene, which are released during most fires. 


1,6 - 3,8 times as high cancer rate, depending on the type 

The research is being released six months after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2022 determined that occupational firefighting is positively “carcinogenic to humans”.

The study was published the second week of January 2023,  in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational Medicine.

According to a BBC-article, the rates of prostate cancer, leukemia and oesophagal cancer appear to be 3.8, 3.2 and 2.4 times higher than for the non firefighting population. Firefighters are already generally considered to faced with cancer death rates 1.6 times higher than the general population, according to the study.


Soot in airways an indicator of risk

According to the study, more than 85% of the recently surveyed UK firefighters had reported observing soot in their nose and throat after going to a fire call.  Those who had been noticing soot in the nose and throat for more than a day after the call were twice as likely to eventually report a cancer diagnosis than those who did not notice soot after incidents.

Food habits on the call also seem to play in, as soot and toxins on the bunker gear itself can pose a great hazard to the fire fighter if not treated with the proper post incident hygienic procedures. The study reported that those who were eating while wearing personal protective equipment were 1.8 times more likely to report a cancer diagnosis than those who wait to eat until they are out of their gear and have washed.


2020 report in minimizing exposureDr Anna Stec previously published an independent report on Minimizing firefighter´s  exposure to toxic fire affluents.  Download the report by following the link. 

As a best practice report from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), commissioned by the FBU,  it aims to help protect firefighters’ health by highlighting some of the risks and common sources and suggesting preventative measures for minimising exposure to contaminants and best practice for the decontamination of FRS personnel and firefighting equipment after exposure to toxic fire effluent. 


Photo Credit: (Above) Three Belgian firefighters in turnout gear practice putting out a fire on a burning vehicle. Photo provided by CTIF Belgium.