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The World Trade Center Health Program is considering adding uterine cancer as a 9/11-related health condition, more than two years after the program rejected the illness as a covered condition.
John Howard, the program’s administrator, and Xavier Beccera, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced in a public notice in the May 10 Federal Register that the WTC Health Program is recommending that all types of uterine cancer, including endometrial cancer, be included in the program.
Only cancer not covered
If uterine cancer is added as a 9/11-related condition, first responders and survivors with the disease will be entitled to free health-care through the program, as well as compensation through the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Currently, uterine cancer is the only type of cancer not covered under the program.
“We know that WTC Health Program members continue to face health challenges that stem from their exposures on or in the months after 9/11,” said Howard, who is also director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “The proposed rule … is the next step toward ensuring women who are enrolled in the WTC Health Program have access to the cancer care and treatment they need if their uterine cancer is related to their 9/11 exposures.”
A coalition of elected officials, scientists and physicians and female survivors and first responders who were at Ground Zero have pushed for the WTC Health Program to reconsider its September 2019 decision rejecting uterine cancer as a covered condition. The program administrator cited a lack of sufficient evidence establishing a connection between uterine cancer and 9/11 exposures.
Gender disparity a barrier
Because women were not well-represented in the occupational studies analyzing the health effects of 9/11 exposure, many advocates argued that there were gaps in the research. Currently, just 9 percent of the 79,366 first responders enrolled in the program are women. And while nearly half of the 32,499 survivors enrolled in the program are women, the bar for civilians to participate in the program is much higher because they must exhibit symptoms in order to qualify.
In November, the WTC Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee voted to recommend that uterine cancer be added to the list after it reviewed research indicating that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals — which were found in WTC dust — may contribute to uterine cancer risk.
“The people at the WTC Health Program kept working through the review process despite all the challenges related to the Covid pandemic, and I think they have reached the right decision,” said Iris Udasin, principal investigator for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at Rutgers University. “The number of affected patients is not huge, but this will make a huge impact on their lives and once again demonstrate the nation’s commitment to helping September 11 responders.”
Cheryl Hall, who spent 17 days at Ground Zero following the terror attacks as a utility worker for Con Edison, told the Daily News she had to pay for uterine cancer treatment surgery last month without help from the program.
“If males got uterine cancer, it would be on the top of the list of 9/11 illnesses,” she told the newspaper.
'A better chance'
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the Northwell Health Queens World Trade Center Health Program, believes “there is a much better chance” of uterine cancer being added to the list this time around.
“There are more women in the program, particularly in the survivor’s program … and as we know, there is often a latency period from when an exposure occurs to when a solid tumor develops. In terms of data collection and development of these cancers, two years can make a big difference in how many people develop the cancers, and are aware that there might be a connection, so they can reach out to the program as well,” she said in an email.
Moline added that “there is evidence that compounds in the WTC dust/fumes are associated with endocrine disruption and this provides the basis for the WTC Administrator to add uterine cancer.”
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