Coverage for uterine cancer is now available for 9/11 responders and survivors, although, for some, the decision was too late. Uterine cancer was previously the sole reproductive cancer absent from the roster of 9/11-associated diseases.
In 2016, Kathryn Meany, upon her initial diagnosis of endometrial cancer, questioned her doctors about a possible connection to the toxic fumes she was exposed to in lower Manhattan post-9/11, where she worked for several months. However, she was informed that there was no evidence to back this up. Starting January 18, uterine cancers like Meany’s are now included under the World Trade Center Health Program, thereby providing free high-quality treatment for those diagnosed with such conditions. Additionally, the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, a component of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, will also consider it.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s move to acknowledge uterine cancers, a decision that took years, brings solace to Meany, a 69-year-old inhabitant of Ossining who has remained free of cancer since a hysterectomy in 2017.
Yet for Kataryzna Sosnowski, the acknowledgment came too late. The tie between this reproductive cancer and 9/11 exposure was confirmed just over a month following her demise. The 58-year-old, a Brooklyn resident originally from Poland, succumbed to the disease on December 17, 2022. Sosnowski, a housekeeper, was employed overnight in a building opposite the towers. She was present just days after the attacks, removing the dust and probable asbestos remnants and inhaling the polluted air, her daughter Natalia Sosnowski stated. In 2016, Sosnowski received her first endometrial cancer diagnosis and subsequently underwent a hysterectomy. However, in two years’ time, it was discovered the cancer had spread.
“Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t halt its progression,” Natalia said about the physicians treating her mother. “She pursued all available treatments within our means. Ultimately, her life was claimed by the disease after it spread to her lungs.”
Despite no confirmation at the time, Natalia stated that her mother firmly believed her cancer was a result of 9/11. Kataryzna sought legal advice and urged her daughter to contact Jon Stewart, who actively campaigned for the full funding of the Zadroga Act and supported 9/11 survivors and first responders.
Kataryzna had attempted to seek help at a WTC Health Program clinic. However, since her condition was not covered, she was unable to receive assistance. Even with some insurance coverage, she was unable to afford experimental treatments or consultations with certain specialists.
Natalia, 28, stated, “She always felt that women were overlooked by this fund. It’s shocking to be turned away by a facility when you are diagnosed with cancer that primarily affects women.”
In the fall of 2021, the process to include uterine cancer under the 9/11 coverage was initiated by The World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee.
This inclusion provides medical monitoring and treatment to eligible 9/11 responders in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, along with survivors of the New York City attacks.
Establishing a causal relationship faced obstacles, due to limited research available on uterine cancer among female 9/11 responders and survivors, given their low numbers.
Prostate cancer was added to the WTC Health Program in 2013, as experts noted an increasing number of cases among 9/11 responders and survivors. However, the connection to uterine cancer was not distinct at the time due to the small number of women registered.
Although the survivor community is about half female, they represent just a small percentage of the 9/11 program enrollees.
By September 2022, survivors made up only 30% of the WTC Health Program registrants.
This is likely to change as the aging population who lived, worked, and attended school in Lower Manhattan become aware of their eligibility, according to Baione. He states, “Many people are unaware of their eligibility.”
The exact nature of the chemicals and the extent of exposure at the WTC site remain a mystery, which means much of the health impact findings rely on correlation rather than specific causation.
“The likelihood of uterine cancer being connected to exposure to World Trade Center dust, in my opinion, is significant and more likely than not,” stated Dr. Lawrence Mohr from the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston, a member of the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee, in 2021.
Concerns for those over 60 years of age
Dr. Iris Udasin, the medical director of the University Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, proposed in 2021 that a link between uterine cancers and 9/11 exposure was a “biological probability”.
“If there are enough endocrine disruptors to cause conditions like prostate cancer and breast cancer,” then the same type of contaminants could increase the risk of uterine and endometrial cancer, said Udasin. Endometrial cancer accounts for about 90% of uterine cancer diagnoses.
According to the American Cancer Society’s 2023 report, around 66,200 uterine and endometrial cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States, with an estimated 13,030 women likely to succumb to the disease within the year.
Endometrial cancer ranks fourth in terms of prevalence among U.S. women, following breast, lung/bronchus, and colon/rectum cancers. The incidence peaks between ages 60 and 70, but 2% to 5% of cases occur before age 40.
Dr. Udasin, from Rutgers, stated that recognizing uterine and endometrial cancer helps raise awareness about preventive screenings within the 9/11 community and improves their access to these screenings.
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