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Faculty & Staff Honors

Rutgers Receives WTC Health Program Grant to Examine Head and Neck Cancers After 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Dr. Judith Graber, assistant research professor at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI), received a two-year, nearly $700,000 grant from the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program, which is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U01OH011322). The goal of the grant is to examine risk factors for head and neck cancers among World Trade Center (WTC) responders and look for opportunities for early detection and referral for these potentially debilitating diseases.

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[Photo: Dr. Judith Graber]

The attacks on the WTC towers on 9/11 resulted in a toxic debris cloud blanketing the surrounding area and exposing those present, as well as those later involved in rescue, recovery, and clean-up efforts, to known and suspected human carcinogens. The WTC dust was a complex mixture that included respirable as well as large particles resulting in direct exposure to the mouth, nose, and throat of responders. WTC responders have since developed respiratory diseases and other illnesses, related to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  An overall excess of cancer, as well as of some specific types of cancer (thyroid, prostate and multiple myeloma) has also been seen in studies of WTC exposed cohorts.

“Preliminary data show that individuals exposed to WTC dust resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the WTC collapse may have an increased risk of developing head and neck cancers, especially among younger responders,” said Dr. Judith Graber, who is also an adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Helping these individuals better understand their risks may help them to modify their risks and improve long-term health.”

Dr. Judith Graber and her team will also examine whether alcohol and tobacco use and human papillomavirus (HPV), all known risk factors for head and neck cancers, increase WTC responders’ overall risk for head and neck cancers. The findings of this study will establish a risk profile associated with head and neck cancers in WTC responders which will guide the development of recommendations for prevention and early detection. Developing prevention and control interventions for those individuals who are at a higher risk will help to reduce treatment failure, long-term disability, disfigurement, and death.