More Than a Decade Later, Health Professionals Still Trying to Understand the Effects of 9/11

September 11th related cancers have affected more than 5,400 responders and survivors — a number that continues to rise every day.

A new study from the World Trade Center Health Registry found that prostate, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, melanomas, breast, and thyroid cancers are being found among responders in significantly higher numbers than the general public.

For the past few months, Mount Sinai Hospital’s World Trade Center Health Clinic has seen over 30 responders coming in for treatment each week. “They had a very, very difficult mixed exposure of really awful stuff and I think now we’re beginning to see the consequences of that,” said Dr. Michael Crane, Director of The WTC Health Program Clinics at Mount Sinai.

In an increasing number of cases these cancers are more aggressive like that of, trauma nurse, Kathleen Kelly, who was diagnosed in March with breast cancer.

Hours after the attack Kelly, a 9/11 volunteer responder, joined her husband, a police sergeant, at the site to care for responders. “I could treat them there and allow them to go back to the pile which is what they wanted to do,” she said.

Dr. Crane says exposure to the mixture of toxins has made some of these cancers more difficult to treat. “It wasn’t just one substance, it wasn’t just asbestos fibers, it wasn’t just aromatic hydrocarbons, it was a whole gimmish of everything going right into people’s lungs,” Dr. Crane said.

Crane says he’s also seen a steady number of rare cancers growing faster than normal, which is raising questions for researchers.
“One of the theories is that something about the exposures accelerated the process, or made the process more aggressive so that the tumor spreads more quickly,” Dr. Crane said.

Kelly’s tumor and part of her breasts were removed. She has had reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy, and she is now receiving radiation therapy — and, yet, she still doesn’t regret volunteering. “The days after were just people doing what they needed to do to try and save people,” she said.