Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month: Strategies for Prevention and Protection

January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, and we wanted to take the time to express our gratitude and show our support for our nation’s finest. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your service and sacrifice! 

It’s the last word anyone wants to hear, yet firefighters are uniquely at risk to hear it: cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is now fighterfighters’ leading cause of death and one of the primary financial burdens placed upon them. 

In this article, we’ll go over the ways you, as a firefighter, can take the proper steps to reduce the risk of cancer, the kinds of support you can find if you receive news of a cancer diagnosis, the ways you can reduce the impact on your finances, and some exciting news regarding the fight against cancer.

Cancer Prevention

Unfortunately, cancer is the leading cause of death of firefighters; plus, they are 9% more likely to get diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher chance of dying from cancer than the general populace. With the odds against you, it’s even more important to try your best to prevent cancer in every way you can, at home and at the workplace.

On the job

Wear your PPE! You have it for a reason, and looking tough isn’t worth the risk. Your SCBA will help prevent inhaling dangerous smoke and air chock full of toxins from modern-day housing materials. Also, just because the fire is out doesn’t mean the air is safe. Toxins can hang around for several hours, so don’t let your guard down. Keep your PPE on even during post-emergency recovery procedures and decontaminate on-site before stripping your PPE and heading to rehab. 

In rehab, use soap and water to wash your neck and head, and once you get back to the firehouse, be sure to shower immediately and clean your turnout gear. Also, be sure to routinely clean your turnout gear and retire or destroy it if it gets damaged. 

We don’t say this because we don’t think you don’t know about standard decontamination procedures. We say it because many firefighters don’t decontaminate well enough (if at all!), even knowing the risks of absorbing carcinogens, toxins, and chemicals at the hazard site. Of course, it takes time and energy; after a grueling and hazardous experience, cleaning is the last thing you want to do. But it can save your life, so it’s worth doing!

Off the Job

The same advice that applies to everyone also applies to firefighters, but even more so considering the heightened risks of cancer. 

So, even though your job is physically demanding, a systematic exercise regimen alongside a healthy diet can help keep your immune system in fighting shape. These aren’t insignificant factors either – the chances of getting lung cancer alone could be reduced by up to 25% with high amounts of physical exercise, while you have a 10-20% reduced risk of cancer with a healthy diet. 

In short, reducing alcohol consumption, quitting smoking (or any other tobacco use), eating clean, and exercising are your front lines of defense against developing cancer after reducing your workplace exposures. We get it – easier said than done!

Financial Consequences

Besides your health, your finances will be severely impacted by a cancer diagnosis – and that impact can have a direct effect on your health and ability to survive cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that the average treatment cost for the year after a diagnosis is $42,000, and a 2018 estimate places the average total cost of treatment at about $150,000. Additionally, cancer patients are 2.5 times more likely to declare bankruptcy, and those who declare bankruptcy have an 80% greater chance of succumbing to cancer.  

The financial hazards don’t end at the hospital for treatment or the pharmacy for medication. You’re also looking at lost pay during your treatment and recovery, which could take a year or more. Even the standard three months’ worth of emergency savings isn’t enough to make up for such a loss of income. 

The ability to pay for treatment should be considered the number one priority for firefighters – your life literally depends on it. And the best way to prevent sky-high bills is to have adequate insurance that will pay for not only your direct treatment but also help with income and medication. 

Many modern forms of insurance come with living benefits that can work as a safety net that can help pay for living expenses, alternative treatments, travel costs, and medication, giving you the financial peace of mind necessary to pay for your treatments and focus on recovery.

Support Structures

No firefighter has to go through cancer alone. You already have a considerable support network via your colleagues, families, and other loved ones. However, there are also nationwide networks composed of current and former firefighters, many of whom are cancer survivors themselves, that are available to help you through every stage of fighting cancer. 

One such network is the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. This non-profit organization provides training and assistance to firefighters and their families. The International Association of Fire Fighters also offers support and assistance to firefighters, partnering with both the American Cancer Society and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network to do so.

The Good News

The battle against cancer had traditionally been an uphill one. Stepping into the ring against cancer is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, both game changers that are making the fight against cancer easier and more manageable. Here are just a couple of examples:

On the treatment side, cutting-edge, AI-driven tests can now simultaneously predict the progression of tumors and determine the most effective treatment plans based on the individual’s unique genetic material. On the financial side, experts predict that AI can lower administrative costs by 5-10% over the next five years, potentially (hopefully!) driving down the costs of medical treatment. 

And the AI revolution is just beginning. In fact, medical knowledge is advancing so quickly that only 6% of what a new physician knows today will even be relevant within ten years! This gives us hope that sooner rather than later, cancer and other illnesses will be completely curable 100% of the time – and if not, at least significantly cheaper to treat with much higher survival rates.

In Conclusion

The threat of cancer looms large for firefighters. This Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve explored how we can help prevent cancer, better understand its financial implications, and the invaluable support structures available. We’ve also highlighted the promising advancements in AI-driven treatments and solutions, offering a much-needed beacon of hope in the ongoing battle against this invisible enemy.

Protection Red’s Role

Your well-being is our top priority. If you’d care to discuss your financial security and explore options that specifically cater to the needs of firefighters, we’re here for you. Click the button below to schedule a meeting with a team of experts who cares!

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