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Study: Limited hikes in 9/11-related cancer

People wait in line to enter the 9/11

People wait in line to enter the 9/11 Memorial as One World Trade Center rises under construction following a ceremony at the New York City Police Memorial Wall in New York City. (Oct. 11, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

A large study published Wednesday that found limited increases in cancers among 9/11 responders and residents near Ground Zero should be viewed as interim, said advocates and experts who agreed it would have little impact on future funding for cancer coverage.

In September, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health added about 50 cancers to the list of diseases covered under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act -- a somewhat controversial move given a paucity of large cancer studies but one long sought by advocates who feared cancer-stricken responders would be left penniless as well as ailing.

A study of 55,778 responders and residents -- the biggest study to date -- published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found an increased risk just among the responders and only for prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and myeloma compared with the general population.

But researchers from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the numbers were small and there was no correlation between the incidence of cancer and the intensity of exposure to the World Trade Center site.

The study also found no increase in cancers among residents and other nonresponders compared with the general population. Researchers looked at cancers through 2008 among participants in the World Trade Center Registry, set up in 2003 to monitor health effects among responders and residents exposed to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the World Trade Center Health Program in Suffolk, Nassau and Brooklyn, which follows about 7,000 responders, said the study "is wholly an interim study and does not establish anything" because cancers often take decades to develop.

"The overall likelihood is that in 20 years from the event, a clear statistical association will be established," he said. "In the interim -- and certainly not within the first five or six years -- there's no way a statistical association would be established."

Benjamin Chevat, executive director of 9/11 Health Watch, established by unions and other groups to ensure continued coverage and compensation under the Zadroga Act, called the study "a blip" and said it should have little effect on funding, which runs out in 2016. "We're going to know a lot more in the next couple of years," he said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) said the study, rather than undermining a cancer link, confirmed her worries "that these toxic exposures have led to higher rates of cancers and strengthens my resolve to fight for future Zadroga Act funds."

John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation, a responders' advocacy group, said the study doesn't reflect the many cancers he is seeing among responders.

"Science needs to catch up with reality," he said.

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