Women who lived or worked near Ground Zero, as well as female first responders after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who later developed uterine cancer could soon receive full coverage from the WTC Health Program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed adding uterine cancer — one of the only types not covered by the Health Program — to the list of WTC-related health conditions.
The change would allow qualifying patients with all types of uterine cancer, including endometrial cancer — or who go on to develop it — to seek compensation from the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The end of the department's 45-day public comment period is Friday.
Iris Udasin, principal investigator for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at Rutgers University and her colleague, Judith Graber, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, first petitioned the WTC Health Program to add uterine cancer to the list of covered ailments almost two years ago after discovering the disease among several patients.
Udasin said the number of affected patients is not large — men represent a significantly higher percentage of patients in the WTC Health Program — but will make a significant difference in their lives.
“This is very important to the women who have this cancer," said Udasin, who doubles as medical director of the Clinical Center at Rutgers’ Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute. "It's important so that we can make sure they're receiving proper medical care. But it's also important, because … the victims compensation fund provides a financial reward. And that's certainly significant to the people involved."
The Rutgers petition won support from doctors and researchers at New York University School of Medicine, Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine and Long Island's Northwell Health.
The effort also received the backing of nearly two dozen members of Congress, including Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), who signed a letter last year supporting the change.
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of Northwell’s Queens World Trade Center Health Program, said while men represent about 86% of her cohort patients, she's begun to treat more women that developed uterine cancer after World Trade Center exposure.
"We're all looking forward to Friday when the waiting period ends and they can formally adopt it," said Moline, who also serves as senior vice president of Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology and Prevention at Northwell, "It's been a long time in the making."
Dr. John Howard, administrator of the WTC Health Program and director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, will make a final determination, likely in the fall, whether to add uterine cancer to the list of WTC health conditions, said NIOSH spokeswoman Stephanie Stevens.
"If uterine cancer is added to the list in a final rule," Stevens said, "women who are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program will have access to the cancer care and treatment they need if their uterine cancer is related to their 9/11 exposures."