Could Children of Firefighters Be at a Higher Risk for Cancer?

(TFC) – In Waipahu, Hawaii, three separate cases of children diagnosed with cancer have drawn international attention. The diagnoses — which have spanned the past six years — are connected by one major factor: All of the children’s fathers served as firefighters at station 12. Whether this connection is anything but a coincidence is yet unclear. However, the possibility of a widespread pattern is shaking the nation.

The Case

Ally Tamayose was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — a cancer of the bone — and has begun treatment. She is the third child to be diagnosed with cancer, and the second with this same uncommon form.

The administration of Station 12 was not tipped off to any connection following the first two cases: “We didn’t look at this as being a pattern after the first and even the second child that contracted cancer,” said Bobby Lee, the current president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association (HFFA), “…We’re concerned, because it seems to be some pattern.”

Pattern?

Given how recent this case is, research into the implied connection is still inconclusive. While there are several possibilities for the cause, as it stands, there is no evidence that the correlation is impacted by the fathers’ occupations specifically.

In other words, there has been no documented and widespread pattern of cancer appearing in children of firefighters. However, it is also important to keep in mind that the investigation and research are ongoing, and nothing can be assumed until there are conclusive, test-supported results.

Further, the possibility of a total coincidence is slim. Every year, 15,780 children are diagnosed with cancer, though that only represents about 1% of all cancers diagnosed. The leading diagnosis remains leukemia, with osteosarcoma not represented anywhere near the top of the list. In fact, the number of children diagnosed with this form hovers around 450 each year, making the possibility of two coincidental cases of the same type extremely unlikely.

Factors

There are several other factors that could contribute to childhood cancer risk at Station 12. First, it is important to consider the carcinogens involved. Carcinogens — cancer-causing materials — can include anything from radiation to asbestos, and they are often the catalyst for systemic cancer cases. These materials cause mutations in genetic DNA, in turn raising the risk for cancer. If some specific factor is causing these cases, it merits a look.

First, the Waipahu fire department falls within an industrial area, which immediately sends up red flags for cancer researchers. Industrial processes deal with a long list of carcinogenic material during production and refinement processes. Though Waipahu itself does not report significantly higher incidents of cancer than anywhere else, this environment could still be one of many contributing factors to the pattern of childhood cancer.

It was noted above that there is no connection between firefighters and their children being diagnosed with cancer. While this is true, it should also be considered that many of the materials experienced by firefighters are also carcinogenic. Airborne particles — often found in smoke and smog — can cause cancer in the same way smoking cigarettes can. In fact, cancer is the deadliest killer of firefighters nationwide.

But this still does not explain the diagnoses of children. Genes control one’s likelihood of contracting cancer but are not altered by external factors. If the fathers of the three children were all at risk for cancer, their children might be as well. That does not seem to be the case.

Missing Piece

There is still something missing from this puzzle. It is exceedingly unlikely that the three children were diagnosed through total coincidence: Childhood cancer is rare, and osteosarcoma is so uncommon that two cases in one location are nearly unheard of.

However, if it is an outside factor — or multiple factors — causing this condition to be more likely amongst these children, it is not limited to the location or occupation of the parents. Firefighters deal with carcinogens every day — they wear safety gear to prevent the worst of the exposure, but they are nonetheless likely to contract cancer later in life. Up until now, no connection has been drawn between these incidents and the firefighters’ children.

While it might be marginally more likely that the children would contract cancer through environmental factors — such as industrial pollutants around the Waipahu area or trace carcinogens their fathers bring home with them from work, that does not seem sufficient to explain all three cases.

Investigation

The investigation and research currently being completed will eventually unearth exactly how widespread and severe this case is. It is unlikely — but by no means impossible — that a pattern of children’s cancer cases in firefighter households becomes clear in the process. It is also possible that there is some carcinogenic material present within the station itself. Time and more research will hopefully yield an answer.