Chesapeake firefighters screened for cancer with new test
Firefighters face higher rates of cancer than many other professions. They’re exposed to toxins like arsenic or asbestos while fighting blazes – and even their gear can contain dangerous chemicals.
The CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) put cancer rates among firefighters at 9% above the general population. Firefighters are also 14% more likely to die from cancer.
As it turns out, turnout gear -- the protective wear firefighters don when on the job -- also contains PFAS, known carcinogens that stay in the body. While most departments are trying to phase out their use, millions have already been exposed.
Chris Moore is a Chesapeake Fire captain. He says that even with strict decontamination procedures, firefighters still get sick.
“Firefighters, we are a little higher than three times more likely to get cancer than the average person," he said. "And then we're 14% chance higher fatality rates once we get it.”
That’s where the Galleri early detection test comes in. It analyzes blood samples for fragments of DNA shed by cancer cells – enabling it to test for up to 50 kinds of cancer at once. It takes two weeks to get results.
The Galleri test has been certified to use, but hadn't been approved by the FDA.
Tony Cetrone is the department’s occupational health physician.
“The big thing is that, unfortunately, there are a lot of cancers that by the time they become detected, they're symptomatic and it's too late," Cetrone said. "We're trying to get those cancers before they become symptomatic.”