January is firefighter cancer awareness month.

As a firefighter, you face exposures that put you at risk for skin cancer.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of over 100 chemicals produced when substances like wood, coal, gas, garbage and other organic substances are incompletely burned. Some of these chemicals are known to cause cancer – they’re classified as carcinogens. Others are classified as probable or possible carcinogens. PAHs can be found on and under your gear and absorbed through your skin in the hours after exposure.

PAHs exposure on the job is linked to skin cancer.
UVR exposure from the sun off the job also increases your risk for skin cancer.

So what can you do? Take these precautions and take care of your skin.


Reduce absorption of PAHs through your skin on the job.

• Remove your gear, decontaminate it and store it properly.
• Shower and wash your skin thoroughly with soap as soon as possible after every fire response. Washing off immediately can dramatically reduce the amount of particulate matter on your skin and the opportunity for absorption of PAHs.
• If it’s not possible to shower immediately, clean your skin as well as you can. Wash your hands with soap and water if available and use hand sanitizer if not. Use disposable wet wipes for your face, neck and other areas of exposed skin.

Protect your skin from sun exposure off the job. Sun exposure is by far the most significant risk factor for skin cancer.

• Check the UV Index. Protect your skin whenever the UV Index is 3 or higher – in
Saskatchewan that’s generally from 11am to 3pm between April and September, even when it’s cloudy.
• Cover up with clothing. Clothing is the first line of defense against the sun.
• Wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, head, ears, and neck.
• Use sunscreen labelled broad spectrum, water-resistant and at least SPF 30. Apply generously to all areas not covered by clothing.
• Seek shade or bring your own umbrella.
• Wear sunglasses with full UVR protection to protect your eyes. Close-fitting wrap-around styles are best. 

Ask your doctor to check your skin for skin cancer. Early detection of a Melanoma skin cancer can save your life!

• Know your skin. Check your skin monthly and keep an eye on the moles that you have. If you see a mole or spot on your skin that is changing, itching, bleeding or growing, see your doctor right away. Click here for more information about how to check your skin.
• Ask your doctor for a skin check at your annual physical. Tell your doctor you’re at an increased risk because you’re a firefighter.

Share the information with your fellow firefighters!

Interested in a printed version? Get in touch!