#876: Cancer scare strikes Queensland firefighters
Cancer scare strikes our firefighters: Six serving and retired firefighters have been reported as suffering from cancer.
April 16, 2008
By Nikkii Joyce
SIX Toowoomba firefighters are part of the growing number of Queensland Fire and Rescue Service staff battling cancer. The figures were revealed yesterday as a statewide investigation was launched into brain cancer clusters in fire stations. The United Firefighters Union (UFU) announced that six active or retired Toowoomba firefighters were among 34 in the state battling cancer. Two cases of testicular cancer, one case of prostate cancer and three other cancer-related illnesses in Toowoomba have been reported to the union.
UFU Queensland president Henry Lawrence said he had received information from the Toowoomba region confirming a number of firefighters were suffering with cancer. Mr Lawrence said he was first notified after he made a call to Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) committees to identify firefighters suffering from the disease. He said Toowoomba’s cases could not be identified as a “cluster” due to the varying types of cancer, but added there was increasing support for action as numbers of cancer-related illnesses amongst QFRS staff continued to grow.
“We can’t attach any significance to their occupations without comparative analysis of the general area and environmental studies,” Mr Lawrence said. “Nonetheless, as numbers continue to grow, there is certainly some support for there being a link between the two.”
Attempts by The Chronicle to speak to the city’s key figures from the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service were redirected to the Emergency Services Minister’s office. Sources did confirm that the Toowoomba incidents of cancer had hit its firefighting community hard. The revelation of cancer-related illnesses amongst firefighters follows the discovery of a cancer cluster at Atherton fire station in Queensland’s far north last December. QFRS Deputy Commissioner Iain Mackenzie, in a statement to The Chronicle, said he was unaware of the number of firefighters battling cancer in Toowoomba or in other parts of the state outside Atherton. Mr Mackenzie said accurate figures would come from a cross-referencing of firefighters with the Cancer Registry and not any statewide tests on Queensland firefighters as reported in metropolitan newspapers. Minister for Emergency Services Neil Roberts yesterday proposed a national study into the incidence of cancer among firefighters.
Mr Lawrence said it was unclear as to why the job of firefighting was linked with cancer, but suggested required safety clothing might make them susceptible.
Firefighters identify more cancer cases
The Courier Mail
By Peter Michael
April 15, 2008 12:00am
FIREFIGHTERS across Queensland have identified at least 18 more cancer cases in two regions just a day after a statewide investigation was opened into brain cancer clusters in fire stations.
In Toowoomba and the North Coast region, officers yesterday detailed a host of cancer-related illnesses and deaths including brain tumours, throat cancer and testicular cancer.
Eight brain cancer, four prostate, three testicular, one bowel, one leukemia and 12 other various kinds of cancer cases have been reported to the union, taking the statewide total of known firefighter cancer cases “” including the five in Atherton “” to 34.
United Firefighters Union president Henry Lawrence asked his members to provide anecdotal evidence of all serving and retiring firefighters across the state to battle cancer.
“At this stage there is no definitive cause but the higher incidence leads us to believe there must be some link to the business of firefighting,” Mr Lawrence said.
On Sunday, the Government ordered health authorities to test every firefighter in the state for brain cancer after a cancer cluster was confirmed at Atherton fire station in the state’s far north.
Tests will involve checking the medical records of serving and retired firefighters against the Queensland Cancer Registry to try to identify other possible clusters.
The Atherton fire station study found the rate of brain cancer among staff was between 21 and 62 times higher than the Queensland average.
Brain cancer is most commonly linked to exposure to nuclear decay or ionising radiation.
Mr Lawrence welcomed the widened statewide investigation into the incidence of brain cancer.
He said there were fears, backed up by international studies, that firefighters could be exposed to unknown deadly radiation by the nature of their work.
“There have been a number of possibilities ranging from the protective clothing we wear, exposure to toxic smoke, chemical spills or dealing with hazardous materials,” Mr Lawrence said.
Scientists barred from cancer data
Michael McKenna | April 18, 2008
LIFE-SAVING cancer research is being blocked by Queensland government restrictions on scientists gaining access to a register of sufferers throughout the state.
The Cancer Council of Queensland has launched unprecedented legal action in Brisbane’s Supreme Court for access to the register to enable independent study of the disease, including blocked work into why survival rates are lower in regional and rural Queensland.
Scientists believe the study may embarrass Queensland Health because it is likely to reveal detection and treatment standards are failing outside of Brisbane.
Queensland is the only state in Australia, and one of the few jurisdictions in the Western world, where researchers require case-by-case approval to access the cancer register for the development ofprevention and treatment strategies.
Queensland Health has refused to release localised cancer statistics and has failed to fund the collation of data on the stages that cancers are being discovered in different areas.
The battle has emerged as suspected cancer clusters – involving the ABC’s Brisbane studios and firefighters in north Queensland – are being investigated by the Government.
Documents obtained by The Australian show that some of Australia’s leading scientists – including former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer – have repeatedly appealed to Premier Anna Bligh and Health Minister Stephen Robertson to grant routine access to the data.
The Cancer Council of Queensland – which was awarded management rights of the register in 2001 – has been denied access or forced to wait up to a year for approval to use theinformation and start the research.
A two-year backlog in collating the data, partly blamed on underfunding, has further blown out the delays.
Queensland Health has enforced the approval procedure for access to the register because of concerns the release of information could identify an individual sufferer.
In a letter last year to the council, Queensland Health acting director-general Andrew Wilson said privacy provisions under the Public Health Act prevented the department from giving ongoing and open access to research units.
“However, we are constrained in what we can do in this regard as a combination of certain variables (month and year of birth, sex, suburb or Statistical Locality Area, country of birth) is enough to potentially identify a person and hence invokes the disclosure provisionsof the act,” Professsor Wilson wrote.
The council has argued that members of its epidemiology unit – set up in 2001 as a government condition for handing over management of the 26-year-old register – are bound by confidentiality laws and professional ethics.
Cancer Council chief executive Jeff Dunn told The Australian the data also did not contain personal information – such as names and addresses – which further ensured privacy.
“While we are reluctant to take legal action, Queensland Health’s refusal to allow the Cancer Council routine access to the registry data goes against public health practices around Australia and internationally,’ hesaid.
“These data are critical to cancer control in Queensland and will point the way to further detailed research in our mission to prevent and detect cancer.”
Professor Dunn said the impasse prevented the council from delving into the causes behind differences in cancer incidence and lower survival rates in the bush.
“If the Cancer Council’s legal action is successful, we would use Queensland cancer registry data to examine differences in cancer incidence and survival in Queensland,” he said.
In a statement last night, Mr Robertson said he had asked his department to be “pro-active” in resolving the issue fought out behind closed doors for more than two years. “I understand the concerns of the Cancer Council, which is why I’ve discussed this with them at some length and have requested a watching brief on this issue,” he said.
“I’ve been advised this is a difference of lawyers’ opinions about the release of confidential patient information.”
The Supreme Court action will focus on the agreement on the register, which was signed on behalf of the council in 2001 by its then chairman, Queensland’s present Chief Justice, Paul deJersey.
The legal action also follows ongoing disagreement over the funding of the register.
The Cancer Council yesterday told The Australian that there had been no funding increase for the register between 2000 and 2006, despite an annual 11 per cent increase in notifications of the disease during that period.
A one-off funding increase of $145,000 was given to the register, still short of the requested $160,000 and without recurrent funding increases.
The new funding was needed to reduce the backlog of data going into the register and to track varying diagnosis patterns at each stage of the life-threatening disease.
Cancer suffferer Dixie Spinks, 71, of Bagarra in central Queensland said yesterday that she could not understand the Government’s stance on the issue.
“It is important work and I would be comfortable with these doctors doing this research,” she said.Leave a reply →