Uterine Cancer and 9/11: Women May Be Missing Out on Compensation

Uterine Cancer Awareness Month is upon us, yet many are unaware that this type of cancer is one of the 69 cancers covered by 9/11-related federal programs.

Most Americans remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001, when they first heard that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

Years have passed since the World Trade Center disaster, but for thousands of people near ground zero, the towers continue to fall, as exposure to toxins from the wreckage has left them dealing with long-term health issues, including cancer.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 400,000 people were exposed to toxic compounds in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11, including first responders, clean-up and recovery workers, and individuals who lived or worked close by.

According to a 2018 news report, approximately 10,000 people, including first responders and 9/11 survivors who were in or near ground zero when the towers fell, have been diagnosed with cancer. That's more than the nearly 3,000 people killed on the day of the World Trade Center disaster.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 established the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), which provides free nationwide medical care for people with 9/11-related health conditions. The Act also led to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which provides monetary benefits to people with 9/11-related illness.

In 2019, President Trump signed the "VCF Permanent Authorization Act," which extended the VCF's claim filing deadline to October 1, 2090.

WTCHP covered conditions, include a laundry list of respiratory, digestive, and mental health conditions. Moreover, WTCHP physicians say that 69 different types of cancer are linked to 9/11.

The most recent addition to that list is uterine cancer.

In the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 67,880 cases of uterine cancer in 2024. It is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs and is a slow-moving cancer that can take months or years to spread throughout the body.

The most common symptom of uterine cancer is vaginal bleeding or change in periods.


Delays in linking uterine cancer to 9/11

In January 2023, the WTCHP added uterine cancer, including endometrial cancer, to the list of World Trade Center-related conditions — over a decade after the 2010 Health and Compensation Act.

Sara Director, a 9/11 survivor and partner at Barasch & McGarry, a law firm in New York City, tells Healthnews that discrepancies in early research may play a role in why uterine cancer wasn't initially included in the list.

"Two decades ago, when the scientific and medical community started doing investigations and studies into the effects of the toxins, the cohorts were made up of mostly first responders. And yes, certainly there are [many] brave women who were first responders," Director explains. "[However], the majority were male, and they didn't have a uterus."

Sara Director
Sara Director-Image Courtesy of Barash & McGarry

Director is a health advocate for the 9/11 community and pushed for the recognition of uterine cancer as a 9/11-related condition.

"And what the scientific and medical community did wrong is they didn't think about the survivors," Director says. "So, they left out a huge portion of the population that should have been included in the study and it took a very long time to correct that wrong."

Director says that her law firm gets many calls from people who say that their mom, sister, or spouse passed away from 9/11-related uterine cancer.

"While we're working hard for them now, that loved one never knew that their cancer was from 9/11. Never knew that their family was going to get some financial stability as a result of the cancer and the ultimate death," Director tells Healthnews. "So, it's bittersweet, but I like to look at it in an optimistic view that we're able to help so many more people, so many more women."

World Trade Center disaster-related cancer is more than a New York issue, Director says, as thousands of people from several states came to ground zero to help. Not to mention the people who lived and worked in the exposure zone during and up to eight months after 9/11.

"Think about the [thousands] of people that were there during the exposure period who have moved away. 9/11 affects everyone in our country and affects people outside of our country that left the [United States]," Director explains.


In addition, World Trade Center-related toxins can also impact people who came to New York after 9/11 and were in the exposure zone during the eight-month timeframe. For example, someone who started a job in that zone in February 2002 would have been exposed.

What can women do if they were exposed to 9/11 toxins?

People in the exposure zone between 9/11/2001 and 5/30/2002 may be eligible for the VCF, while those in the zone between 9/11/2001 and July 31, 2002, may be eligible for the WTCHP.

The VCF also provides compensation for people who were at the Pentagon site between September 11, 2001, and November 19, 2001, and the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, between September 11, 2001 and October 3, 2001.

People who were exposed to 9/11-related toxins and believe they have a covered health condition can apply for services or compensation on the World Trade Center Health Program and September 11th Victim Compensation Fund websites. Moreover, a person does not have to have a health condition to register with the programs.
911 exposure map
Exposure Zone Map courtesy of Barash & McGarry

Director says they can also call or visit her law firm's website for comprehensive information on applying for the programs.

If the application process determines that an individual has a 9/11-related illness, they qualify for several benefits, including free monitoring and treatment by doctors with extensive experience treating 9/11-related conditions and financial compensation.

Currently, Director is representing more than 350 women with uterine cancer related to 9/11.

Moreover, the federal programs do not disqualify people who have cancer-related genes.


Director tells Healthnews, "Genes for cancers don't matter if you can prove you're exposed. When you look at lung cancer, someone might think, 'but my dad, he smoked two packs of reds a day.' It doesn't matter. He worked on the bucket brigade."

The pathway to compensation is not always easy

Director notes that some cases are more challenging to prove than others. For example, those who were in the exposure zone on 9/11 alone may not have a witness to verify their presence.

"They did not take the names and phone numbers down, and there were no iPhones like we have now," Director explains. "We might not be able to prove that person was exposed because there are no witnesses."

Director's mission is to continue raising awareness and advocating for women who have 9/11-related uterine cancer or other conditions. She hopes everyone impacted by the World Trade Center disaster gets the healthcare and compensation they deserve.

"My firm is located in the shadows where the towers stood, and the majority of the partners are 911 survivors. My office has lost employees and loved ones to 911 cancers and illnesses." Director says. "So, there's a reason why we've all dedicated our careers to this, work the hours we work and fight the fight."


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