Firefighters are heroes who risk their lives every day to protect people and property from fires. But they also face another danger that is less visible but equally deadly: cancer.
According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service and firefighters are 14% more likely to die from cancer than the general population. This is because firefighters are exposed to a number of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) when they fight fires, such as asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Fortunately, there is a way for firefighters to reduce their risk of developing cancer and increase their chances of survival: early detection. Early detection means finding cancer before it causes any symptoms or spreads to other parts of the body. When cancer is detected early, it is usually easier to treat and has a better prognosis.
But how can firefighters detect cancer early? This is where DetecTogether comes in. DetecTogether is a nonprofit organization that provides lifesaving education on early cancer detection to firefighters and other first responders. Their program, called 3 Steps Detect, teaches firefighters how to recognize potential cancer symptoms and accelerate the time to diagnosis.
The 3 Steps Detect program consists of three simple steps:
- Know Your Great: This means knowing what “great” feels like for your personal health and being aware of any changes in your body or well-being.
- Use the 2-Week Rule: This means seeking medical attention for any persistent or subtle health changes that last longer than two weeks, such as unexplained weight loss, fatigue, pain, or lumps.
- Share With Your Doctor: This means sharing any health changes with your doctor, even if they seem minor or embarrassing, and asking for specific tests or referrals if needed.
By following these steps, firefighters can be proactive about their health and catch cancer at an early stage, when it is more likely to be cured. According to DetecTogether, their program has helped save over 100 lives so far.
To raise awareness and reach more firefighters across the country, DetecTogether has launched a national campaign called Response Time Matters. The campaign features humorous videos starring Jason Patton, a firefighter and TikTok star with nearly 2 million followers, and other firefighters from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). The videos aim to educate and entertain firefighters while encouraging them to use the 3 Steps Detect program.
The campaign also introduces firefighters to a free app called Firefighter Health & Wellness by DetecTogether. The app allows firefighters to track their health changes, access educational resources, and connect with other firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Firefighters are brave and selfless professionals who deserve our respect and gratitude. But they also deserve to live long and healthy lives. By learning how to detect cancer early and getting regular check-ups, they can protect themselves from this deadly disease and continue to serve their communities.