Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative Expands to Jacksonville Area

For the past three years, the Firefighter Cancer Initiative at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has been conducting state-of-the-art cancer research, cancer screening activities and cancer education programs for Florida’s first responder workforce.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, as part of the initiative’s geographic expansion, clinician-scientists from the state-funded initiative met with firefighters and paramedics from multiple fire rescue departments in the greater Jacksonville area, and presented an overview of the research and cancer screening projects.

“Direct engagement with fire services throughout the State of Florida allows us to bring cutting-edge occupational cancer research and cancer prevention practices directly to the men and women who protect us,” said Alberto Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of public health sciences and deputy director of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI).

Joining Caban-Martinez was another FCI investigator, Natasha Schaefer Solle, Ph.D., research assistant professor of medicine. Solle is also the principal investigator of Sylvester’s Annual Cancer Survey, which collects critical data points that allow FCI scientists to track cancer and related risk factors among the firefighter cohort.

As the pair toured fire stations around Jacksonville, they invited those firefighters present to join the Annual Cancer Survey.

“In our experience, the best way to foster participation in research studies is to actively recruit firefighters in their work place, allowing for the opportunity to address any questions or concerns they may have,” said Solle.

Recent findings from the Annual Cancer Survey have documented an increased incidence of skin melanoma among Florida firefighters, as well as a younger age of diagnosis, compared to the general Florida population. Such findings enable the FCI team to bridge cancer prevention practices with novel cancer research. The State of Florida has renewed funding for the FCI for a fourth year, beginning July 1, to not only expand the outreach cancer control and prevention activities among Florida firefighters, but also to include sub-groups, such as firefighter investigators, trainers, volunteers and wildland firefighters.

“The work that Sylvester is doing as part of the Firefighter Cancer Initiative is making a critical difference in keeping our first responders safe,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, associate director of Sylvester, and principal investigator and director of the FCI. “By examining individual and occupational determinants of cancer risk and exposure, we are identifying new levers for intervention that are amenable to action.”

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