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Sylvester Hosts Fourth Annual National Firefighter Cancer Symposium

Building A Healthier World
Brandon Mahal, M.D.

Speakers focus on research, prevention, and survivorship strategies.

More than 400 firefighters from South Florida and nationwide participated in the National Firefighter Cancer Symposium 2022. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine co-hosted the event with Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI), Feb. 24-25, 2022.

“We are working together on collaborative research that can be translated into action and save lives,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine, public health sciences, and obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Kobetz, director of Sylvester’s Cancer Control Program, is also co-vice provost for research and the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research for Sylvester and associate director for population science and cancer disparities.

Key themes of the symposium included cancer risks and firefighters' physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as mobile clinic and cancer screening initiatives.

Natasha Schaefer Solle, Ph.D., RN, co deputy director and research assistant professor at Sylvester, stated that cancer survivorship rates have increased significantly in the past seven years, noting Sylvester’ online FCI Cancer Education and Survivorship portal.

Vandana Sookdeo, M.D., M.B.A., director of clinical programs, mentioned that Sylvester’s survivorship programs — both online and in-person — are aimed at enhancing the well-being of cancer patients and families.

Because of Sylvester’s FCI, there are advancements in research, education, and services for Florida firefighters, said Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O. Ph.D., M.P.H., C.P.H., deputy director of Sylvester’s FCI and assistant professor of public health sciences. One example is Florida’s dedicated firefighter cancer registry project, which helped inform workers’ compensation laws at the state level.

Sylvester is the recipient of more than $8.465 million in state of Florida grants since 2015, as well as additional funds for firefighter cancer decontamination, construction, and equipment.

This past year, the FCI team expanded research and outreach services to firefighters in response to the COVID-19 epidemic and the tragic Surfside condominium collapse, Dr. Caban Martinez said. Studies included COVID-19 screening, testing, and return-to-work strategies, as well as research on chemicals like per- and polyfluoroalkyl.