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Early Cancer Screenings Urged For Arizona First Responders

After a Chandler Fire Department captain died of lung cancer last year, Fire Engineer Jason Underwood decided to get a screening for himself.

The fit, 42-year-old ultra-marathoner was in great shape but wanted to get checked out just to make sure.

“Get a clean bill of health and just have peace of mind and be good to go,” he said.

Instead, doctors at the Vincere Cancer Center in Scottsdale found a cancerous tumor on his lung. Because he caught it early, he is now cancer free.

Dr. Vershalle Schukla is a radiation oncologist at Vincere Cancer Center in Scottsdale. She says typically first responders were not recommended for cancer screenings until age 55 after at least 30 years on the job.

“They were like, ‘Dr. Schukla, our fire captain just died of lung cancer. Screen us, screen us, screen us.’ So then, I started to screen them at the age of 40."

Using what’s called a low-dose CT scan, like the kind used on smokers, Schukla says she can identify potentially cancerous tumors earlier. Of 164 first responders screened in the Valley last fall, five were found to have early stage cancerous tumors.

The Phoenix Police and Fire departments are recommending all first responders take advantage of the free screenings, especially those 40 years and older with 20 years of experience.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.