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Firefighters fight health problems

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- With more information about the health issues firefighters face after work, it's helping them learn what they're dealing with.

Even though this research has been around for the last 20 to 30 years, the information on the possibilities of why they're getting and dying of cancer is spreading quickly. 

One seasoned firefighter in Mattoon had health problems, but wasn't connecting it with his job until the research made him more aware. 

"We're on the leading edge of learning what this stuff is actually doing to us," says Gary Collinsworth, Mattoon firefighter.

What they're learning isn't stopping them. 

"I enjoy the line of work and the people I work with. It feels good to serve the people at large," says Collinsworth.

Nearly 30 years in the fire service with about 20 of those spent with Mattoon and he is finding out more about the dangers firsthand. 

"I've had pre-skin cancer and what they call severe atypical which means the skin cells are abnormal and can turn into melanoma at any time," states Collinsworth.

"Melanomas are the most aggressive and most life threatening. The other two are common and make up a significant portion of my day to day practice," says Christie Clinic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, Jeremy Youse, M.D..  

When it comes to skin trouble for firefighters, they're two times more likely to have skin cancer. 

"I've taken care of a lot of firefighters in my dermatology practice. These folks like to work hard and play hard," says Dr. Youse.     

So firefighters are taking the precautions necessary. 

"Whether it's getting the soot off of my skin as soon as possible, making sure my gear is clean, which we didn't pay much attention to in the past," says Collinsworth.

Part of the present could mean using more sunscreen for protection. 

"If we can eliminate by having them using sunscreen it will help reduce that risk some so we want to focus on the things we can control as far as prevention strategies and using an approved sunscreen, something like that will definitely help," states Dr. Youse. 

Those firefighters will have to stay protected during and after work. Spotting those changing spots is key. 

"If you see something that's not healing or changing to get in and get it checked because there is this valuable window of opportunity. If we can catch it early and get it removed then we can get it taken care of. It's a much simpler procedure for them and might save their life in the end," says Dr. Youse. 

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