DetecTogether Brings Firefighter Cancer Screening Back to Worcester

For a second year, DetecTogether partnered with Polar Park, home of the Worcester Red Sox, UMass Memorial Health, and students from UMass Chan Medical School to offer a free cancer screening for Massachusetts firefighters. We were honored to be joined by special guests that included Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, and Dr. Michael Hamrock.

Firefighters have a 14% greater risk of dying from cancer than the general public. Two in three firefighter deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by cancer. These staggering statistics are rooted in two factors: firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens on the job, and their cancer is frequently detected late, when it is harder to treat and less survivable.

“Firefighters need to be educated about the signs and symptoms of cancer, motivated to pay attention to their own health changes, and empowered to seek timely care, ask questions and make decisions with their physicians,” says Tricia Laursen, DetecTogether’s President & Executive Director. “This event connected firefighters with physicians who understand their unique health care needs, and provide them with critical cancer screenings.”

DetecTogether and UMass Memorial Health came together to offer its second Firefighter Cancer Screening. Firefighters have a 21% greater risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. UMass dermatologists performed skin exams in the DCU Club Level of Polar Park. UMass gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons were also there for colonoscopy consultations, a screening test for colon cancer, for which firefighters have a 21% greater risk. Additionally, firefighters were screened for head and neck cancers, and received eligibility counseling for free chest CT scans and PSA blood tests. Blood pressure checks were also available.

“As someone who appreciates the heroic work firefighters do for all of us, it makes me proud to be part of this event and offer my expertise in diagnosing and treating skin cancer, especially melanoma, for these community leaders who are at increased risk for disease due to the work they do every day to keep us safe,” says UMass dermatologist Dr. Jessica St. John.

Ryan Kelley, a Worcester firefighter, learned 3 Steps Detect, DetecTogether’s early cancer detection education, at his firehouse and realized he should get a scab that wouldn’t heal checked by a doctor. “I put off getting screened for two years after first noticing the wound on my temple. It was something I saw in the mirror every day. But still, like most guys, I put off doing anything about it.” Ryan then attended last year’s screening event, and subsequently had skin cancer diagnosed and removed.  “I honestly believe had DetecTogether not offered a free screening, I would still have a tumor growing on my face,” says Kelley. This year, Ryan came back to volunteer at the event and to share his story with others.

This event connected firefighters with physicians who understand their unique health care needs, and provide them with critical cancer screenings.

Tricia Laursen, President & Executive Director, Detectogether

UMass physicians were joined by UMass Chan students, organized by fellow medical student Christopher Fay, who helped guide the firefighters through their appointments. Fay, who recently led a city-wide effort to distribute sunscreen dispensers throughout Worcester, is particularly drawn to this work after his father was diagnosed with melanoma. “I know these firefighters are someone’s loved one too, and I’m beyond grateful for this team we have here that cares deeply about our community members. This event makes a real difference. It’s crucial to spot skin cancer early when it’s easiest to cure,” Fay says.

This year’s event was generously supported by Coghlin Companies, FirstNet, National Grid, and Saint-Gobain. “Through FirstNet, a nationwide communications network built by AT&T dedicated to first responders, we collaborate closely with the public safety community, and we recognize the vital need for resources focused on first responder health and wellness,” says Patricia Jacobs, President, AT&T Northern Region. “This event in Worcester will help highlight some of the critical tools and services our public safety heroes need to stay healthy and safe, as they consistently put themselves on the line to keep us safe.”

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