Background: Exposure to occupational hazards among firefighters may lead to increased mortality from cancer, lung, or heart disease.
Methods: Age- and gender-adjusted mortality rates of 34,796 male and 2,017 female Florida professional firefighters between 1972 and 1999 were compared with the Florida general population.
Results: One thousand four hundred eleven male and 38 female firefighter deaths with known causes were identified. In male firefighters, mortality due to all causes and most non-malignant diseases was significantly less than expected. There was no excess overall mortality from cancer, but excesses existed for male breast cancer [standardized mortality ratio (SMR = 7.41; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.99-18.96) and thyroid cancer (SMR = 4.82; 95% CI: 1.30-12.34)]. Mortality from bladder cancer was increased and approached statistical significance (SMR = 1.79; 95% CI: 0.98-3.00). Firefighters certified between 1972 and 1976 had excess mortality from bladder cancer (SMR = 1.95; 95% CI: 1.04-3.33). Female firefighters had similar morality patterns to Florida women except for atherosclerotic heart disease (SMR = 3.85; 95% CI: 1.66-7.58).
Conclusions: Excess mortality risk from bladder cancer may be related to occupational exposure during firefighting. The thyroid cancer and breast cancer risk in males, as well as the excess risk of cardiovascular disease mortality noted in females warrant further investigation.