SFFD Bladder Cancer Screening Program & SF Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation

Incidents of Cancer amongst Firefighters:


Since firefighters are regularly exposed to smoke and chemical fumes, firefighters face an increased risk for cancer.  This risk has dramatically increased over the years as the contents of combustion have changed.  More and more household goods, including clothing, electrical equipment, furnishings and even building materials, are made from materials that, when burned, release noxious gases known to be highly toxic and carcinogenic.  These may include by-products of combustion such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as contaminants from building products such as asbestos and formaldehyde.  These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and occur both at the scene of a fire and in the firehouse.

A study conducted in 2006 by the University of Cincinnati (UC), published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, concluded that firefighters are significantly more likely to develop four different types of cancers than workers in other fields.  Their research - the largest comprehensive study to date investigating cancer risk associated with working as a firefighter - has found that firefighters are twice more likely to develop testicular cancer, have significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer than non-firefighters, and are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.

The UC-led research team analyzed information on 110,000 firefighters to determine the comprehensive health effects and correlating cancer risks of their profession.  UC epidemiologists found that half the studied cancers—including testicular, prostate, skin, brain, rectum, stomach and colon cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and malignant melanoma—were associated with firefighting to varying levels of increased risk.

Bladder Cancer Screening Program:

In 2007, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, the San Francisco Fire Department, the SF Fire Fighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, and the International Association of Firefighters Union Local 798 formed a partnership offering free bladder cancer screening to active and retired SFFD firefighters – the first program of its kind in the US.

An initial study, conducted by UCSF Department of Urology researchers, screened 1,286 active and retired SFFD firefighters for transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), a cancer of the bladder.  The results of the study found two (2) retired firefighters with TCC.  Since TCC typically occurs at a rate of 36 cases per 100,000 people (after adjusting for age and gender), the findings indicate retired firefighters may also be at high-risk for this type of cancer.

Bladder cancer may develop as the body absorbs carcinogens and transfers them to the blood, where they are filtered by the kidneys and expelled in the urine.  Chemicals in the urine can damage the lining of the bladder increasing the risk of TCC.  No routine screening guidelines or occupational health standards currently exists for bladder cancer, so UCSF recommends firefighters and their physicians consider regular screenings for TCC.

In response to the results of this initial study, San Francisco City funding has been secured for the periodic screening of bladder cancer for the Department's current & retired uniformed members. 

In 2010, the SF Fire Fighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, with support from the San Francisco Fire Department, has been conducting the second round of bladder cancer screenings.  The intent is to establish regular bladder cancer screening as part of firefighter healthcare, similar to the regular PPD skin tests performed to screen for tuberculosis.  The 2010 screening, however, is not part of any bona fide research; the results, managed by the Foundation, are solely for the benefit of the participants.
UCSF Support Group Directory: Bladder Cancer Education and Support Group

NIOSH Study of Cancer among United States Firefighters:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - the federal agency which conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injury, illness and death - is embarking on a study to examine the potential for increased risk of cancer among firefighters due to exposures from smoke, soot and other contaminants.  This study, made possible through funding from the United States Fire Administration, is intended to enhance current firefighter safety knowledge and inform ongoing efforts to further characterize the cancer risk associated with exposures due to firefighting operations.

The NIOSH Cancer Study will include over 18,000 current and retired career firefighters from health records of both suburban and large city fire departments.  The project will improve upon previously published firefighter studies by significantly increasing the number of individuals for whom health data will be analyzed; a larger study provides greater statistical reliability.  The San Francisco Fire Department is one of the large city fire departments involved in this study.

This study will also improve on past studies by analyzing not only deaths from cancer, but also the incidence of certain cancers that have higher survival rates than others, such as testicular and prostate cancer, as well as deaths from causes other than cancer.  By analyzing deaths and cancer cases among those firefighters, NIOSH will attempt to determine:

  1. Whether more cancers than expected occurred among the cohort; and,
  2. Whether cancers are associated with exposures to the contaminants to which the firefighters may have been exposed. 

By taking these parameters into account, it will improve researchers’ ability to estimate risk for various cancers, and to compare risk of cancer with risks for other causes of death.  More information about NIOSH and the NIOSH Cancer Study can be found at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/cancerStudy.html

More information can also be found at the following SFFD webpage: SFFD Participates in NIOSH Study of Cancer among U.S. Firefighters

SF Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation:

The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation was established in 2007 as a non-profit organization dedicated to using proven scientific research and education to foster the prevention and early detection of cancer occurring in firefighters.  Founder and Chairman of the Foundation is Tony Stafani, retired SFFD Captain and cancer survivor.  Initial funding for the organization was provided by a $100,000 donation from the San Francisco Firefighters Union, Local 798. 

For more information, please contact: sffcpf@yahoo.com

SF Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation (PDF Flyer)
If you would like to make a donation to the SF Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, please mail checks to:

SF Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation
c/o San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 
1139 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA  94103

San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation - FEIN #56-2608686

Related Links:

San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation (Website)

San Fancisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation (Facebook Page) 

Firefighter Cancer Support Network

Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation

Retired Professional Fire Fighters Cancer Fund