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Chicago firefighters receive free screenings for cancer and heart disease

June 25, 2024

Free screenings available for Chicago firefighters

Active and retired firefighters in Chicago are being offered early detection screenings for cancer and cardiovascular disease until at least July.

This initiative is a result of a partnership between Local 2, United Diagnostic Services (UDS), and GRAIL, as reported by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

“These diseases are the leading causes of death among firefighters because of what we are exposed to every day on the job,” said Local 2 President Pat Cleary, a veteran firefighter of 37 years.

“Early detection of these diseases is essential to prolonged life and survival.”

Impact and effectiveness of the UDS program

UDS, known for providing wellness screenings across the United States and Canada, has already conducted early cancer and cardiovascular screenings for over 25,000 first responders.

According to the IAFF, these screenings have been held at various fire departments and health safety events.

“Notably, approximately 68 percent of the participants required some form of follow-up or immediate medical intervention, underscoring the effectiveness and importance of these screenings,” said UDS CEO Ray Lankin.

“And these scans have caught more than 40 cases of thyroid, kidney, bladder, and testicular cancer just in the last year.”

Cleary brought this program to Chicago after learning about its success and partnered with GRAIL, a healthcare company that provides early detection scans, to accommodate 1,800 slots.

GRAIL’s involvement and technology

“Firefighters are at high occupational risk of exposure to cancer-causing substances and should be tested early to ensure the greatest survival rate,” said Jeffrey Venstrom, MD, Chief Medical Officer at GRAIL.

“Our Galleri test is a proactive tool to screen for a ‘fingerprint’ of many of the deadliest cancers before they become symptomatic.”

The funding for this initiative was provided by Local 2 and the Chicago Foreign Fire Insurance Board, ensuring that all participants receive the scan at no cost.

The screenings typically take about 30 minutes, with results available within a few days.

Personal stories highlight the significance

Firefighters who have scans detecting abnormalities are encouraged to consult with their primary care physicians for further evaluation.

Joe Bodanski, a member of Waterbury, CT Local 1339, shared his experience at a Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut meeting.

He credited the early detection program for identifying his thyroid cancer.

“The scan found that I had thyroid cancer. That’s the type of cancer that’s supposed to move slowly, but not mine,” Bodanski said.

“My doctor said this would never have been caught in a regular examination. That’s why early screenings are so important. It really saved my butt.”

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