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Comprehensive cancer screening program en route to Scottsdale firefighters

In fiscal year 2021, the Scottsdale Fire Department was provided a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for firefighters cancer screening. (File Photos/
City Council to consider Scottsdale firefighters cancer screening program
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The No. 1 cause of death among American firefighters? Cancer.

But Scottsdale City Council is expected to move forward next week with a program to provide the community servants of the Scottsdale Fire Department with comprehensive cancer screening to combat occupational exposure of cancer-causing agents.

“Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, accounting for approximately one-third of firefighter deaths,” said Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon in his report Jan. 10 to City Council.

“As a result of occupational exposure, firefighters are susceptible to a multitude of different cancers, have higher cancer incidence and mortality rates, and are diagnosed with cancer at an earlier age than the general population. Prostate cancer, the most common cause of cancer in firefighters, accounts for almost one-third of cancers among male firefighters.”

In his report to the local governing body, Chief Shannon says lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killing American firefighters.

“Lung cancer, the leading cause of firefighter death, accounts for 12.1% of firefighter cancers,” he said in his report.

“Melanoma accounts for 8% of firefighter cancers and firefighters have more than a 50% increase in the odds of having melanoma compared to the general population. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among female firefighters, accounting for almost one-third of female firefighter cancers. Routine screening guidelines are inadequate for firefighters, and many firefighters are diagnosed with cancer before national screening recommendations.”

In fiscal year 2021, the Scottsdale Fire Department was provided a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for firefighters cancer screening, which according to Resolution 12719, if approved this Tuesday, will allow Vincere Cancer Center to begin Scottsdale firefighter cancer screenings this year.

“The Vincere Cancer Center has a long history of working with fire organizations and understands the cancer problem associated with firefighters,” Chief Shannon said in his report. “Their cancer screening processes, already utilized with other Valley fire organizations, have detected cancers early in many firefighters within our region. Their knowledge and skillsets that will be utilized during this contract will be extremely beneficial to our firefighters.”

Scottsdale firefighters cancer screening program

Cost of the program is primarily funded by the FEMA grant, but Scottsdale City Council through a September 2022 resolution, is providing 10% in matching funds for the program.

“The cost of cancer treatment and care is expensive, and the cost is expected to increase,” Chief Shannon offered.

“Total Medicaid spending in the first year of diagnosis alone, ranged from $26,305 for prostate cancer, $31,895 for breast cancer, $54,261 for lung cancer, and $59,496 for colorectal cancer. In addition, to the direct cost of cancer care, the cost of time away from work, the loss of experience and skilled individuals, and the investment into their training further adds to the total costs. Therefore, a shift towards cancer prevention, screening and early detection is financially beneficial in the long run.”

In addition to high costs for care, Scottsdale Fire Department officials report many firefighters are diagnosed with a form of cancer earlier then national guidelines requiring specialized screening tests.

“For example, 10.7% of firefighter lung cancers occur in those under the age of 50 years, which is earlier than all national guideline screening recommendations. Many cancers do not have routine screening tests, such as renal and pancreatic cancer,” Chief Shannon said in his report. “Therefore, whole-body MRI, which detects cancers of the brain, head and neck, thyroid, lung and pleura, kidneys, bladder, prostate, breast and uterus, is beneficial in detecting early cancers which normally are missed until late stage and symptomatic.”

Part of the its consent agenda, Scottsdale City Council will consider moving forward with the comprehensive screening program Tuesday, Jan. 10, at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

Photo of the Scottsdale Fire Department
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