The cancer beast fears scientists. Firefighters and others depend on them for innovations in prevention and treatment.
Firefighters are often exposed to cancer toxins leading many to a diagnosis of cancer. In fact, a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report in 2016 supports this and cites a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer compared to the general population. Researchers collated data on 30,000 firefighters who participated in the study. (1)
Leaders within the fire service have responded to this alarm by stepping up their efforts in education and prevention. They have improved operating procedures and have become more diligent data collectors. Still, there continues to be too many active and retired firefighters fighting cancer.
I am a retired firefighter diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Cancer is a family disease; it affects your entire family. I use todays standard-of-care-therapy and together we have hope for new treatments. There are problems in the cancer research and care system. Researchers, oncologists, and geneticists have told us:
- New treatments face too many regulations and take too long;
- Sharing data is poor which slows down the system;
- Cancer research, clinical trials and biobanks are extremely important but have too many restrictions and not enough participants.
Is there hope? YES, because there has been a change of late; a spark to share research, use the latest technology, foster new partnerships and make it easier for patient involvement. There is new excitement with hope in many areas including these:
- Genomic analysis has lead to some successful treatments including targeted therapies, combination therapies, and immunotherapies;
- Molecular tumor boards which include; medical oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, researchers, geneticists and pathologists are meeting to review patient history and current treatment. They are collectively discussing and making recommendations leading to better patient treatment plans. Genomic testing is changing our standard of care.
One organization behind this spark is the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI). (2) The BCI, co-founded by Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Joe Biden, has a message for everyone: “every day, every minute matters to patients and we must bring the sense of urgency to our cancer research and care systems.” They work to accelerate cancer research by provoking discussion and collaboration. They have contacts within the biotech, technology, science and academic fields who are promoting data sharing and technology. To achieve their sense of urgency they also promote patient and non-patient participation in research.
Many organizations from the public, private and non-profit sectors have joined in, committing to a wave of action. Two examples follow:
1. The “All of Us” research program at the National Institute of Health (NIH) is a historic effort to gather samples (such as blood and urine) from one million people living in the United States to help accelerate research. (3) They need participants and are committed to finding new treatments. They have entered into partnerships to develop:
- A biobank with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to store samples;
- Genome centers with the Baylor College of Medicine, The Broad Institute and Northwest Genomics Center at the University of Washington to analyze the samples;
- Data and Research Centers with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Verily Life Sciences in South San Francisco, California to acquire and organize the data into diverse datasets for researcher access.
2. Another example of fostering new partnerships in order to speed new therapies to patients is the annual Industry/Academia Translational Oncology Symposium at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego, California. (4) It is organized by the University of California San Diego Department of Industry Relations and supported in part by innovative companies like Pfizer and Genomic Health. It brings together industry leaders and researchers to discuss ways to accelerate new laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients.
Leaders from a number of fire service organizations have also joined in the wave by making commitments towards collaboration and participation. Some examples of their partnering:
- The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has endorsed genomic testing which may lead to new treatment options for its members. General President Harold Schaitberger made the following statements: “This advanced technology is already providing unprecedented insights in the drivers of each patient’s cancer,” and “These insights are supporting personalized cancer treatment strategies today, and could one day help lead to a cure.” (5)
- The Miami Department of Fire and Rescue along with other departments are working with Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI). The FCI through a series of projects, including a biobank is addressing the excess burden of cancer among firefighters. The FCI is a research initiative, led by a multidisciplinary team of scientist, which aims to study firefighter’s; exposure to carcinogens, their risks for developing cancer, and methods of education for prevention, screening, and early detection. (6)
- FirefighterAid, (7) a firefighter non-profit support organization in San Diego, California has partnered with Human Longevity, inc. (HLI). (8)
- HLI is a genomic based, health intelligence company on a mission to improve health. 100 firefighters have received gene sequencing, whole body MRI and a cardiac scan through their research program.
- President Donald Trump signed the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018 (H.R. 931) into law. Multiple fire departments will be selected to assist the Centers for Disease control (CDC) in the collection of detailed data on the occurrence of cancer in firefighters. They will need participants. This registry will help scientists better understand the link between cancer and firefighters.
Many organizations, are eager to help the firefighters who often put their lives on the line, such as; The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the CDC, and NIOSH. They have scientists and staff ready to work. They want to make a difference and need firefighters and others to participant as they access existing data and work to gather new data.
This sharing and participation is a win win situation as the research will not only help firefighters, it may also slay the cancer beast. We as community firefighters should spread the word.
(6) https://umiamihealth.org › Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center › Research.