THOUSAND PALMS, Calif. - Sunday marks a somber day as Americans remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It will be 15 years since that attack in New York City that killed almost 3,000 people. Today the number of victims continues to rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's World Trade Center Health Program says more than 1,500 potential 9/11 linked cancer patients lose their lives each year. Almost 80 percent of those 9/11 cancer victims are first responders.
A Valley man was deployed to New York 15 years ago, the morning of the tragic attack.
Roland Cook retired from the Palm Springs Fire Department in 2006. Cook was one of many first responders who was exposed to toxins after working nearly two weeks at ground zero.
"The smoke and the dust was a combination of everything; jet fuel, paper, concrete, people, all mixed into this stuff that we were breathing," said Cook.
More than 32,000 9/11 victims have been diagnosed with aero-digestive issues, such as asthma or chronic cough, which is exactly what Cook suffers from.
"I have a constant cough. It's a dry cough. Some call it the 9/11 cough. I've had pneumonia several times after I came back.
Dr. Henry Tsai who is a board certified medical oncologist/hematologist at Eisenhower in Palm Springs says it's hard to prove the link between 9/11 and cancer but he anticipates seeing more 9/11 victims acquiring the disease.
"If you were exposed during the 9/11 time, there is a higher risk that you will have cancer, overall cancer, although what exactly that is, is hard to say. There were many toxins released, so it can affect multiple organs," said Tsai.
More than 6,000 different cancers have affected those exposed to the deadly debris of 9/11, but there are two cancers that are diagnosed more often when related to the attack.
"Most of the toxins people were exposed to should affect the lung system, and they do find that first responders do have asthma and lung problems and their lung functions drop, but somehow prostate and thyroid cancer seem to be higher," said Tsai.
About 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on September 11. Since then, tens of thousands have experienced health-related problems.