Cutting edge technology helps firefighters with early skin cancer detection

Published: Jun. 5, 2017 at 11:56 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:13 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Firefighters are at an elevated risk of getting the deadly skin cancer, melanoma. In fact they are three times more likely to get it than the general population. That's according to a recent study.

But now cutting-edge technology has just arrived in Tucson to help protect our first responders.

"The first time you hear somebody say you have cancer – it's definitely a shocking thing," Northwest Fire Deputy Chief, Ryder Hartley said.

After 17 years as a firefighter with the Northwest District, Ryder Hartley has been treated four times for Basal cell skin cancer.

"That's a scar on the side of my neck," Hartley said.

However, it is not just from sun exposure. With fires burning hotter and faster now as more homes are built with synthetic materials, chemicals are released and can seep through the cloth on their helmets.

"It'll protect against heat but it'll allow the small particles to get right through and get on your skin and that's where I've had all my Basil cells – they're all right up in here," Hartley said.

Hartley believes the "Derm Spectra" machine will play a crucial role in early detection, especially for Arizona firefighters, as the state has the highest rate of skin cancer in the country.

"Melanoma is a very deadly type of skin cancer but if identified early, 98 percent of those cases are curable," Well America Physician, Dr. Wayne Peate said.

Dr. Wayne Peate explains the screening process. After a series of photographs, every inch of skin is documented and put on a CD for the firefighter's dermatologist. So at every check-up, doctors can monitor any changes.

"It eliminates the recall bias, did that look bigger last time or not?" Dr. Peate said.

Dr. Peate hopes to open this resource up to the public down the road. For Hartley, he said he takes pride in protecting our community and is looking forward to having a new way to protect his fellow firefighters.

"Anytime there's something that can make sure that we're safe – that adds a lot of piece of mind," Hartley said.

The Greater Tucson Fire Foundation is helping to provide more than 1,800 southern Arizona firefighters with free skin cancer testing. The Foundation along with the Pima County Fire Chiefs Association each donated more than $11,000 to purchase the "Derm Spectra." The machine cost a total of $115,000.

The GTF Foundation is still seeking help from the public to help pay it off. Those interested in donating can click here:

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