Rutgers researchers and caregivers have helped secure medical coverage and financial compensation for women exposed to Ground Zero who develop uterine cancer.
Uterine cancer will join most other cancers on the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program’s list of WTC-related health conditions.
Women who worked as responders at Ground Zero and those who lived or worked nearby will receive full coverage from the WTC Health Program for uterine cancer treatment. They also will be able to seek compensation from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
“This is really exciting because we have spent more than two years working to get this approved, and it will make a huge difference for the women who have developed this condition, the women who go on to develop this condition and all of their families,” said Iris Udasin, principal investigator for the WTC Health Program at Rutgers.
To secure coverage, people who were exposed to Ground Zero after the September 11th attacks must apply with the WTC Health Program.
Covered patients must use caregivers who are part of the WTC Health Program’s network, but this requirement does not necessarily mean patients will need to switch providers. Udasin said most of New Jersey’s large cancer care providers are already part of the network. Those providers who are not can request to be added to the network.
The effort to include uterine cancer among covered conditions began when Udasin – who is the medical director of the Clinical Center at the Environmental and Occupational Health Science Institute at Rutgers – noticed several cases among first responders she was treating.
She discussed the matter with her colleague Judith Graber, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. The two agreed that the cancers were most likely caused by Ground Zero exposure, so they decided to ask the federal government for coverage.
“I had already authored several studies that had shown an excess of all cancers in responders, and we knew that a lot of the chemicals people had been exposed to were endocrine disruptors that can lead to this type of cancer, so it made sense to request this addition,” Udasin said.
The Sept. 11, 2021, request from Udasin and Graber won support from counterparts who are treating patients at New York University School of Medicine, Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, and Northwell Health. It also received backing from more than a dozen members of Congress who signed a letter from Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., to the WTC Health Program.
“Iris and Judith organized the request to add uterine cancer to the list of program’s covered conditions, along with the other women at the World Trade Center Health Program Clinics, Doctors Laura Crowley, Denise Harrison, Jacqueline Moline, and Joan Reibman,” said Benjamin Chevat, the executive director of 9/11 Health Watch. “Their work will ensure that women responders and survivors of September 11th who were impacted by the toxins at Ground Zero are fully included getting the care they need and deserve.”
Udasin said the people who really deserve congratulations are the affected patients, and the person who really deserves thanks is John Howard, administrator of the WTC Health Program.
“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,” Udasin said. “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 11th responders and survivors.”