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Valley first responders getting early cancer diagnoses due to partnership

(Pexels photo)

PHOENIX — A partnership between the city of Phoenix and a Scottsdale medical center has led to five first responders being diagnosed with cancer since November.

Radiation Oncologist Dr. Vershalee Shukla with Vincere Cancer Center said she has screened 164 first responders to date, 132 from fire and 32 from police.

“We picked up two prostate cancers, we picked up two skin cancers, and a lung cancer,” Shukla said.

Shukla said the most interesting thing she found from these screenings was the amount of lung nodules she discovered.

“We found 40 lung nodules. This has never been done with first responders before, only smokers. So with low-dose lung C.T. testing we were able to discover these nodules and now monitor them.”

The program to allow first responders to get screened free of charge was created in November. It now reaches first responders across the Valley.

Phoenix city councilwoman Laura Pastor put it in motion with the intention of getting as many first responders screened as possible due to the high likelihood of getting cancer on the job.

“When you put a blue shirt on and become a firefighter, your risk of cancer raising 25 percent, just by taking an oath,” Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner said.

Mesa Firefighter Nikki Sullivan died on Wednesday of cancer that she developed while on the job. In January, Phoenix firefighter Rick Telles died of an aggressive form of occupational cancer.

Jason Underwood, an engineer and paramedic with the Chandler Fire Department, said he has always been active and dedicated to his health over the last 22 years on the job.

But after a Chandler Fire Department captain died of lung cancer last year, Underwood decided to get a screening for himself.

“I went in for a clean bill of health and they told me I had cancer,” he said.. “It was a Thymoma, a cancer in the thymus gland.”

“It was very small, they usually don’t catch this kind of cancer until Stage 4, but because of this screening they caught it early.”

Underwood was off a fire truck for nearly three weeks after the infected area was removed. He’s now encouraging all his fellow first responders to get screened.

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