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Scottsdale cancer center diagnosed 22 firefighters with cancer this year

(KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX — A Scottsdale-based cancer center has had a busy year diagnosing Valley firefighters with cancer.

Vincere Cancer Center diagnosed 22 firefighters with cancer in 2019, according to oncologist Dr. Vershalee Shukla.

The center started screening firefighters for cancer in November 2018, and melanoma has been the most common diagnosis.

“The other cancers have been rare cancers, we picked up a lymphoma as well but, there’s bladder cancers, all types of cancers, breast cancer, testicular cancer prostate cancer,” Shukla told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “They’re all across the board.”

But what do the cancer screenings for firefighters include?

“It’s custom to each firefighter and their risks,” Shukla said. “But the biggest part is their meeting with me, an oncologist and we’re going through their exposure records, their family history, and their medical history and then I make recommendations based on that.”

Dr. Shukla credits the first of its kind partnership to the progressive mind of Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner.

“She knew this was a problem early on with firefighters and she took the leadership in the country – really no one else in the country has done this,” Shukla added.

“Phoenix firefighters have the opportunity to be screened earlier and more aggressively than anyone else,” Shukla said.

Although Phoenix was the first city to get free cancer screenings for firefighters, several other departments have also included screenings into their benefits.

Conversations at the state level hope to implement cancer screenings across the entire state of Arizona for firefighters.

Four Arizona firefighters have died from cancer in 2019.

But those deaths are not in vain. Many firefighters believes those deaths are changing the culture in the fire department for preventive measures, including early cancer screenings.

“Hopefully, well not hopefully we are catching cancers earlier and saving lives,” Shukla said.

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