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New program to offer early cancer screening for firefighters

The program is designed to catch, and treat, health issues more common among firefighters, like cancer, earlier.

AURORA, Colo. — The team behind a new wellness program created specifically for firefighters said they hope early cancer screening will help save lives.

The Medical Center of Aurora and Potomac Primary Care are launching the new effort called the Firefighter Wellness and Cancer Screening Program.

“They support and protect our Colorado communities and now it’s time for us to protect them,” said Amie Shae, the oncology program manager at The Medical Center of Aurora and part of the team that created the new program.

”This program really is comprehensive," she said. "The entry point is through a primary care, which will do annual physicals and labs for firefighters. And from there will do cancer screenings and cardiac screenings.”

Shea said the program is designed for regular follow ups so firefighters don’t “fall through the cracks.” And if doctors spot a problem, then the firefighter is referred to a specialist through the program.

“Physicians use clinical rules to decide what patients need, cancer screenings, based on age and risk factor," said Dr. Eric Hill, the EMS Medical Director and an emergency medicine physicians at the hospital. "And this is an identification that just being a firefighter by itself puts you at higher risk for certain types of cancers.”

Hill is also a former firefighter. He said he's seen the recent cultural shift within fire departments, which have started prioritizing cancer risk education and prevention efforts.

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“Then on the back end, the medical community has to step forward and realize that this is not the general population,” Hill said.

Mike Eason is a firefighter with Adams County Fire Protection. In his 20 years of service, he said he’s known several people with a cancer diagnosis.

“Looking at some of these young firefighters that passed away from cancer – they’re young,” he said.

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Eason also works at a funeral home. He has seen the impact on cancer in that line of work, too.

“In the past year and a half, I’ve taken care of the families of five to six fireman that lost their lives to cancer,” he said.

Eason worked with the hospital and primary care providers behind the new wellness program, offering perspective from an active-duty firefighter. He is an advocate for baseline health screenings, hoping early detection of cancer or other problems will leader to earlier intervention.

“If something is detected, it's detected early where it can be treated,” he said. “If that’s the case we can treat people early, rather than later.”

The Medical Center of Aurora and Potomac Primary Care are reaching out to local fire departments now and hope to start enrolling firefighters in the new year. Besides cancer screenings, the program will focus on firefighter's cardiac, mental, and nutritional health.

To learn more about firefighters wellness screening, visit the program's website.

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