Gloved hand touching a back with a mole

Firefighters, Cancer, and Early Detection

Contributed by United Diagnostic Services. The introduction of modern mobile screening technology is giving the fire service the weapons they need to tackle the #1 killer of firefighters: cancer.

The American Cancer Society succinctly emphasizes the importance of proactive screening tests: “Screening tests are used to find cancer before a person has any symptoms. So, it’s important to get regular screenings even if you are feeling fine. Cancer screening tests can catch some changes that may or may not be cancer.”

According to research from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational, Safety, and Health (NIOSH), cancer causes approximately 61% of deaths among U.S. firefighters. Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.

These statistics are of no surprise to the fire service; the anecdotal evidence is piled high in our collective memory in the form of retirements cut short, flag draped coffins, and the loved ones left behind.

New Technologies

The fire service has long relied on x-rays, blood draws, and the onset of symptoms to be the actionable markers to identify and fight cancers. Sadly, these findings often come too late to appropriately mount an offensive attack. New technologies and deployment methods are becoming available to change that narrative.

One of the most successful screening technologies being employed is based on the strategic use of ultrasound. The ultrasounds are painless, non-invasive, require no special preparation, and are quick. Ultrasounds allow doctors to look for tumors in regions of the body that don’t show up well on x-rays.

Additionally, ultrasounds are very good at getting pictures of some soft tissue diseases and blood draws or x-rays can’t compare in the ability to differentiate fluid-filled cysts from solid tumors. The portability associated with this technology allows agencies to turn their own firehouses, union halls, or the like, into screening sites.

With the World Health Organization’s latest IARC report now clearly stating that the very profession of firefighting is carcinogenic, the importance of going on the offensive in prevention has been markedly emphasized. The good news is that there is technology both available and easily deployable to make that a reality.

Graph of top ten actionable findings from UDS Health

See complete data at UDS Health


Cancer is not the only scourge facing the fire service. With heart disease so outsized in its prevalence, the industry has spent decades securing cardiac protections through presumptive legislation. Ultrasound-based screenings can also be deployed to provide a thorough heart screening to assist on the cardiac front. They have been utilized to discover life-threatening pathologies like aortic aneurysms, valvular defects, and ventricular hypertrophy.

United Diagnostic Services has proudly partnered with dozens of Fire & Rescue Departments across North America to offer portable life-saving health screenings. In fact, in the past 90 days their fire service partnership screening events have detected 7 cancers.

More detailed information regarding early detection screenings for cancer and cardiovascular disease can be found by visiting