It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but take the time to additionally review your cancer risk protocols
Around the country the month of October has come is signify national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with the intent of elevating an awareness of all things breast cancer. This includes focusing on prevention, early detection, and early intervention. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the incidence of breast cancer impacts 126.8 per 100,000 women in the general population. We also know the American fire service has embraced the “October is pink” theme by displaying pink breast cancer awareness shorts, badges, and even wrapping apparatus in pink to call attention both with the ranks and the communities which are served.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, just eight percent of the United States fire service is comprised of women. This in many ways has hampered health and wellness research and findings due to the small sample sizes of studies. The U.S. Fire Administration has published a report highlighting some of the needs to further address women’s health issues in the fire service and titled it “Emerging Health & Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service.”
According to the group Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, based on what we know from the few studies of women firefighters, overall cancer incidence appears elevated. Of the specific cancers studied, cervical, thyroid, and bladder cancer were elevated at a statistically significant level. Breast cancer appears elevated, although this was not statistically significant. No other specific cancers have been studied in women. The San Francisco (CA) Fire Department includes over 225 women, approximately 16 percent of its workforce. Of that number, 15 percent of female firefighters between 40 and 50 years old have been diagnosed with breast cancer, which is six times the national average. Further research will continue to shed light on the causation between firefighting and women firefighters.
However, October presents us with a national awareness campaign that should allow us to reflect on cancer prevention best practices. The Firefighter Cancer Support Network, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and National Volunteer Fire Council’s Lavender Report and the International Association of Firefighters all have resources available aimed at cancer risk reduction, both from the perspective of contaminant exposure and lifestyle modification. Take an opportunity to review these resources and assure you and your department are applying the best practices.
Lastly, early detection is a key component of survival from breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, localized breast cancer, meaning there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside the breast, has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent. Conversely, distant breast cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, or bones has five-year mortality dropping to just 28 percent. Like most cancers- early detection is paramount, so consider annual comprehensive firefighter medical exams. In addition, consideration in consultation with your health provide may suggest earlier screenings that general population recommendations based on potential occupation exposure risks. The IAFC’s Healthcare Providers Guide to Firefighter physicals also may be as a resource.
Todd J. LeDuc, MS, CFO, FIFirE, retired after nearly 30 years as assistant fire chief of Broward County, Florida, an internationally accredited career metro department. He served as chief strategy officer for Life Scan Wellness Centers, a national provider of comprehensive physicals and early detection exams. He has served as a member of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Safety, Health & Survival Section for over a decade and is currently secretary of the section. He is a peer reviewer for both professional credentialing and agency accreditation. He is editor of Surviving the Fire Service (Fire Engineering Books) and serves on numerous advisory boards and publications. He can be contacted at Todd. LeDuc@lifescanwellness.com.