By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – As the 10th anniversary of 9-11 approaches, a new report shows a possible connection between firefighters who worked at ground zero and cancer.

Many firemen who worked in the aftermath of 9-11 were exposed to choking dust clouds containing cement and known carcinogens such as asbestos, benzene, and dioxin. Now, a new study shows they may be more likely to develop cancer.

Former New York City firefighter Kenny Specht spent nearly two months combing through the rubble at Ground Zero, inhaling toxic dust.

“Very proud to be part of the work that really became mentally and physically challenging,” said Kenny. In 2007, Kenny hurt his neck putting out at a fire. When doctors did a scan, they saw a bigger problem.

“We found two nodules on your thyroid. I found out it was cancer,” said Kenny.

A new study in the journal “The Lancet” is the first comprehensive cancer study that looked at nearly 10,000 New York City firefighters in the first seven years after 9-11.

It found those who worked at ground zero were 19 percent more likely to have cancer than those who didn’t.

“The biggest surprise was that cancer was increased. Actually, when I started the study, I did not think it would be. Not at seven years, but that increase is real,” said Dr. David Prezant, the Chief Medical Officer for the Fire Department of New York City.

But many experts say it’s too soon to draw a direct link, and the 38 extra cancers found in the firemen could have been by chance.

“One wouldn’t expect to see an elevation in solid tumors in a very short, seven year period. Usually it takes decades,” said Dr. Al Neugut, a cancer epidemiologist.

September 11 health issues, including gastrointestinal problems, forced Kenny to retire.

He’s now cancer free, but worries about his and other firemen’s future.

“When you take the pre-September 11 medical records of the New York City Fire Department and look at the same men, those that are still alive – ten years later, it’s disturbing to say the least,” said Kenny.

Kenny hopes this new research will bring more benefits to those who made the same sacrifice he did.

Cancer is not covered under the 9-11 health bill. The research involving first responders will be ongoing for years to come.

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3

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