Relief for 9/11 cancer survivors

The Obama administration is bolstering the medical benefits for some 9/11 responders and survivors who developed rare forms of cancer because they were exposed to the toxic fallout of the terrorist attacks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday it plans to add four types of cancers to the list of diseases covered under the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program. 

The WTC health program, which already covers dozens of other cancers, will now include certain types of brain cancer, invasive cervical cancer, pancreatic cancer and testicular cancer, which had previously been excluded from a list of “rare cancers.” 

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People who developed these types of cancers after being exposed to fallout from the terrorist strikes will now be eligible for coverage. 

“To make sure that all people who suffered negative health effects from the World Trade Center Collapse are covered, they will receive health monitoring and treatment at no cost to themselves,” said Fred Blosser, spokesman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of CDC that administers the program.

The WTC health program, which went into effect in July 2011, covers nearly 67,000 people who developed diseases or were injured during the terrorist attacks. While most participants contracted their diseases during the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Centers, people who responded to the terrorist strikes at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., may also be eligible.

The CDC estimates the WTC health program will cost between $2.2 million and $4.9 million annually over the next three years to cover treatment and screening costs for 9/11 responders and survivors.

The program covers people who developed injuries like back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, respiratory problems like asthma and acid reflux, and mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder.

In September 2012, the CDC added dozens of cancers to the list, stemming from the toxic fallout of the dust cloud that surrounded parts of New York City for days following the terrorist attacks.

The CDC plans to add these additional four forms of cancer to the list in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register. The rule would go into effect immediately.

The CDC will also clarify the definition of childhood cancers to include people who were diagnosed before the age of 20, though they do not lose eligibility if they wait to join the program until after they turn 20 years old. 

“The issue of childhood cancers concerns cancers that may show up in children, but would not be so prevalent among adults,” Blosser said. 

“It may have been five or 10 years ago that they were diagnosed and they are just now entering the program,” he added. “Back then, they were under 20, but now they are older than 20. They would be still be eligible.”