UMass Chan Medical School students help screen firefighters for cancer at Polar Park

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Medical students Maximilian Kinne, Alice Tan, Christopher Fay, Morgan Groover and Emilee Herringshaw, with Jessica St. John, MD, MPH, MBA (middle).

Nineteen student volunteers from TH Chan School of Medicine helped screen more than 100 Massachusetts firefighters for skin cancer at Polar Park in Worcester on Tuesday, October 25.

According to DetecTogether, a national education and advocacy organization that teaches people how to detect cancer early, cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters. Occupational exposure to carcinogens means firefighters have a 21% increased risk of melanoma, so detecting skin cancer early is crucial.

UMass Chan Medical School and UMass Memorial Health have partnered with DetecTogether and Polar Park to administer free full-body cancer screenings. Attending physicians, residents, fellows and nurses also performed head and neck exams, took blood pressure measurements and provided advice on whether firefighters should undergo colonoscopy. Firefighters also have an increased risk of colon cancer.

Third-year medical student Christopher Fay, who led efforts to install sunscreen dispensers throughout Worcester and founded a student organization that provides sun safety training, was instrumental in planning of the event. Her passion is fueled by her father’s diagnosis of melanoma.

“Put simply, I hate cancer,” Fay said. “I am energized by the skin cancer screening at Polar Park because I know these firefighters are also loved ones. Hope is one of the most important things in life. And what gives me hope is seeing how our UMass Chan community is shaping up.

Fay’s mentors are Heather Maykel, director of partnership and program development for DetecTogether, and Jessica St. John, MD, MPH, MBA, assistant professor of dermatology.

Second-year medical student Maximilian Kinne, who was helping out at the event, attended cancer screenings in the Boston area, where he worked as a medical assistant. He became interested in community cancer screenings after a patient confided in him that he had not seen a doctor in several years due to a busy work schedule.

“During their skin cancer screening, a dark spot on their back was biopsied and showed stage III melanoma, advanced skin cancer,” Kinne said. “Fortunately, this lesion was detected early enough for the treatment to be successful. I started to ask myself, “What about the other members of our community who don’t have access to care? How are their health needs met? I am thrilled to help first responders get the care they need to continue to keep our communities safe.

Tom Mulcahy, an active firefighter at Grafton for nearly 48 years, said UMass Memorial doctors and UMass Chan students made him feel comfortable during the screening and that he would return if the event was held again next year. He said he enjoys helping people with his work and appreciates the time volunteers give to him.

“(Firefighting) is my way of giving back,” Mulcahy said. “I always say if I drop dead tomorrow, and my epitaph says, I was a good father and helped everyone I could, lived a good life, how could you be wrong ?”

Associated media coverage:
Spectrum News 1: Massachusetts firefighters receive free cancer screenings from UMass medical students
Worcester Telegram and Gazette: Message to firefighters in Worcester and beyond: Cancer screenings save lives
MassLive: Worcester firefighter diagnosed with cancer after free screening

Current articles related to UMass Chan:
The Rémillard Family Community Fund Announces Grant Recipients to Improve Local Health
TH Chan School of Medicine student working installing sunscreen dispensers in Worcester

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