They fight fires, she fights cancer
Margaret Snyder, MD shares the story of how she got involved screening firefighters with her colleague Christine Kannler, MD
Dr. Kannler's story
A dermatologist in Massachusetts is blazing a trail to screen firefighters for skin cancer through the AAD’s Skin Cancer Screening program. Christine Kannler, MD, of Northeast Dermatology Associates, P.C., is incredibly passionate about this heroic patient population and she has a very good reason why.
In July 2015, Dr. Kannler’s brother, Peter, was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. At the time, he was a firefighter in Chelsea, Massachusetts, an instructor at the Massachusetts Fire Academy, and a member of FEMA, Hazmat and Urban Area Security teams. “I knew firefighters have a high rate of cardiovascular disease, but Peter’s cancer diagnosis got me wondering whether firefighters also have a higher risk for malignancies,” she stated.
The year her brother was ill, Dr. Kannler read every published study on firefighters and cancer. Interestingly, she uncovered some of the first studies from the ‘80s, which concluded that the rate of cancer in Boston firefighters was higher than that in the average population. Ever the dermatologist, she also unearthed data indicating that firefighters are at an increased risk for melanoma.
After her brother lost his battle with cancer, Dr. Kannler launched into action, utilizing her training as a dermatologist to serve and protect Peter’s fellow firemen. Her work began with the Chelsea and Westwood fire departments, where she implemented free skin exams to catch and eradicate skin cancers at the earliest possible stage. By 2017, Dr. Kannler was attending union meetings to reinforce the importance of health education and regular checkups, while simultaneously expanding her screening program to the Boston Fire Department Wellness Fair. Dr. Kannler, with the help of Donald Grande, MD, David Greenstein, MD, Megan Bernstein, MD, Joop Grevelink, MD, Caitlin Carney, MD, Mary Gibney, MD, Joshua Shofner, MD, Kasia Masterpol, MD, Gary Mendese, MD, and Jessica Boulavsky, MD, managed to screen nearly 700 Boston firefighters over a period of four days.
Since that time, over 3,000 firefighters at local firehouses and union halls across the state have been screened, demonstrating how a little spark of passion can light into a blaze of doing good for others. Dr. Kannler’s overall mission is to raise awareness about the increased risk of cancer in the fire service, as well as to highlight that skin cancer screenings can be easy, free, fast, and portable. Her simple summary: “The earlier we can catch cancer, the better the chance we can beat it.”
Dr. Kannler’s mission began with her brother’s diagnosis, but her passion is stoked by the people she meets along the way: “Firefighters are among the best of us — they are kind, grateful, and literally enter burning buildings to save lives. I’m so happy I can help them.”
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The SPOT Skin Cancer™ initiative helps reduce the incidence of skin cancer and saves lives by building shade structures, providing free skin cancer screenings, and installing sunscreen dispensers. Learn more about how you can get involved.Get involved