Sperling Prostate Center

20 Years Later, 9/11 Responders Have More Prostate Cancer Risk

The tragic terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) on Sept. 11, 2001 immediately took the lives of 2606 victims. Now, 20 years later, a silent terrorist may be lurking in the bodies of courageous, generous men who responded to the devastating attack with the desire to help. Exposure to potentially toxic substances appears to have put their lives on the line many years later, due to a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer (PCa), according to a 2021 multicenter study by Goldfarb, et al.[i]

Based on a study cohort of 54,394 male rescue/recovery workers, the authors analyzed association between 1120 diagnosed prostate cancer cases and WTC exposure. Starting in 2007, PCa risk was significantly elevated at 24%, compared with New York State PCa statistics during the same period. (The authors note that regular PSA screenings of the cohort may be an artifact that inflates the data.)

Toxic exposure – a known risk factor

The most commonly cited risk factors for PCa are family history (prostate or breast cancer) and ethnicity (particularly African American descent). However, toxic exposure is also a known factor. For instance:

  • Agent Orange – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes that Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are at high risk for PCa, and are eligible for special benefits. Numerous other diseases are also attributed to Agent Orange.
  • Industrial chemicals – In a 2018 study of 2000 PCa patients between 2005-2009, researchers from the University of Quebec found prolonged exposure (more than 25 years) to benzene, toluene, xylene and styrene was associated with a significantly higher risk of PCa.[ii]

These are only two examples, but there is ample evidence that environmental exposure to dangerous compounds can trigger the onset of PCa as well as many other lethal conditions.

It is truly sad that the WTC tragedy not only cost so many lives in the moment, but continues to leave a slow unfolding of collateral damage among the good-hearted men who came to the rescue of others. The Sperling Prostate Center gratefully acknowledges their bravery. We also highly recommend that these men, and tens of thousands of others whose jobs involve unavoidable exposure to contaminants, be scrupulous about annual PSA screening. If the blood test returns a suspicious result, be sure to have a multiparametric MRI of the prostate to find out if a targeted biopsy is the next step. Take good care of yourselves – we all need the work you do!

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Goldfarb DG, Zeig-Owens R, Kristiansson D, Li J et al. Temporal association of prostate cancer incidence with World Trade Center rescue/recovery work. Occup Environ Med. 2021 Sep 10;oemed-2021-107405.
[ii] Blanc-Lapierre A, Sauvé JF, Parent ME. Occupational exposure to benzene, toluene, xylene and styrene and risk of prostate cancer in a population-based study. Occup Environ Med. 2018 Aug;75(8):562-572.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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