Protect the Protectors

Wilmette firefighters learn about melanoma dangers at Protect the Protectors

Wilmette Beacon

March 22, 2019

5:00 am CDT March 22, 2019

Firefighters have an obvious occupational hazard: they risk their lives in dangerous situations like running into burning buildings and carrying heavy hoses up steep ladders; but they also have an increased risk for several cancer types caused by carcinogens inhaled at fire scenes. In several recent studies, an increased incidence of the most fatal type of skin cancer, metastatic melanoma, has also been shown in firefighters and additionally these melanomas are diagnosed at a much earlier age than in the general public.

Skin of Steel, a local non-profit for melanoma awareness and research, hosted their inaugural Protect the Protectors event on March 18 at the Wilmette firehouse. Dr. Alka Madan, of Pinnacle Dermatology in Crystal Lake and Barrington, screened more than 20 people (firefighters, police officers and some spouses) in three hours to check for skin cancer. Madan’s team graciously offered their time and expertise in hopes of promoting early detection of skin cancer and referred several people for follow-up after identifying suspicious lesions. They used the SPOTme program provided by the American Academy of Dermatology who tracks skin screenings for research. Pinnacle Dermatology is based out of Lombard with 29 practices and 46 providers across the Midwest.

Wilmette Fire Chief Ben Wozney and Police Chief Kyle Murphy were excited about the program and hope to host another event for crews that weren’t able to attend. Many of those who came in for screening reported that inconvenience is a hindrance keeping them from seeing a dermatologist. Several others had never had a skin screening before. The AAD and Skin of Steel recommend yearly skin cancer screenings as a preventive measure in addition to checking your own skin every month. Early detection of stage 1 melanoma has a 98 percent cure rate, whereas survival rates significantly decrease for patients when the disease has spread to other organs. According to statistics provided by the American Cancer Society, the incidence of melanoma has increased steadily in the past 30 years with a projected estimate of 96,000 new melanomas diagnosed in 2019 and about one melanoma death every hour in the US.

In advance of spring break vacations, whether headed to beach, snow or anywhere outside, Skin of Steel hopes to remind everyone of the importance of wearing broad spectrum (UVA & UVB) sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher (reapplying every 2 hours), wearing hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and seeking shade during peak UV ray times of 10 a.m.-4 p.m. At the event, Pinnacle gave out shot glasses representing the amount (1 ounce) of sunscreen that should be used every time you apply sunscreen to your full body.

Skin of Steel has a Junior Auxiliary Board composed of high school students from New Trier, Loyola, Regina, and other North Shore schools. Its 4th annual Spyn of Steel fundraiser is on May 15 at Spynergy in Winnetka. Skin of Steel primarily fundraises for an International Melanoma Tissue Bank Consortium with San Francisco-based partner AIM at Melanoma. One of the four US sites is here at Northwestern University, under the direction of Dr. Jeffrey Wayne, Chief of Surgical Oncology, specializing in melanoma and also a Wilmette resident. The goal of the tissue bank is to collect 500 fresh-frozen melanoma tissue specimens that will retain the RNA and DNA, with full annotation and additional urine and blood samples, for research revealing new biomarkers and better personalized treatments in melanoma. To find out more, visit

Leave a Comment