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Cancer Study

Study of Cancer among U.S. Fire Fighters

Project background and goals

In 2010, NIOSH researchers, with funding assistance from the U.S. Fire Administration launched a multi-year study to examine whether fire fighters have a higher risk of cancer and other causes of death due to job exposures. Our study was designed to address limitations of previous fire fighter cancer research.

  • We included a significantly larger population. With more than 30,000 career fire fighters who served in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments between 1950 and 2010, it is the largest study of United States fire fighters ever undertaken. In addition, both non-white and female fire fighters are represented.
  • We looked not only at deaths from cancer, but also at the diagnosis of certain kinds of cancer, such as testicular and prostate cancer, which have higher survival rates. We also examined other causes of death to better understand the risk for various cancers and illnesses among fire fighters compared to the general public.
  • We also examined more exposures than previous studies. We looked at the number and type of fire runs made (for example, EMS and vehicle fire) and the use of personal protective equipment and diesel exhaust controls.

Download the protocol [PDF 315 KB, 31 pages] for more details about the study.

Study progress

Originally, we hoped to include 18,000 current and retired fire fighters in our study. With excellent cooperation from the three fire departments, we have identified more than 30,000 fire fighters for the study. We have made many trips to each location to collect data. All of the data for our study come from existing records. We have gathered records of detailed work histories of the position(s) each fire fighter held and the length of time he/she spent in that position.

Project timeline


  • NIOSH and USFA announced the initiation of a study of cancer among United States fire fighters.
  • Partnership established with the National Cancer Institute.
  • Approximately 30,000 fire fighters from Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco were identified for the study.
  • Work began to collect records on fire fighters employed between 1950 and 2010.


  • List of fire fighters included in the study was completed for San Francisco and Chicago Fire Departments and started for the Philadelphia Fire Department.
  • Exposure records collection started.
  • Work history data collection completed for all departments.


  • Health outcomes were identified.



  • Additional analyses will be conducted to finalize the study.


  • The second manuscript* [PDF 662 KB, 9 pages] detailing study results on exposure was published.
  • The third manuscript* [PDF 372 KB, 8 pages] details study results on exposure and provides information on the construction of a job-exposure matrix (JEM) used in the second manuscript.


Read the latest newsletter to learn more about our study and progress.

If you have questions about the study or suggestions for this website, please email or call the NIOSH Industrywide Studies Branch, 513-841-4203.

*Access to these journal articles is per BMJ guidelines (