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Cancer canines helping first responders detect signs of cancer early

SAN ANTONIO - Canines in Canada are helping save the lives of first responders here locally.

A simple test allows firefighters to detect signs of cancer early.

The canines are beagles and they are trained to detect different kinds of cancers, including colon, prostate, rectal, liver, stomach, and breast cancer.

Fire fighters are exposed to chemicals on a daily basis, especially from flames and smoke.

“How are we being poisoned by these things,” says Joe Arrington, a firefighter and spokesperson for the San Antonio Fire Department.

It has been a question on his mind for a while. Arrington has worked on the hazmat team for 13 years.

“We take protective measures when we go into a fire into a hazardous environment with respiratory protection but it is always the unknowns,” adds Arrington.

Now, thanks to a simple screening firefighters like can get find out about cancer early.

“I found out about this program last summer I was up in Illinois doing a firefighter study,” says Jennifer Chadwick, Safety Division Executive Officer.

In a joint effort between the fire fighter’s association and the San Antonio Fire Department, the $20.00 test kits became a reality.

Firefighters breathe into the mask for about 10 minutes and fill out a form.

“Obviously it is a screening tool it is not a diagnostic test,” says Chadwick.

The kits are then shipped off to Canada where canines smell the samples.

It's a program called Cancer Dogs.

“Transfer the mask it is kind of like a pill bottle let it sit for a week -- let the scent permeate,” says Chadwick.

If the sample is positive, it will be set aside again for another week so the dogs get another shot at it.

If positive a second time, the firefighter will be asked to do the screening again.

“The reason for the second test what these dogs are smelling for are the waste products for the cancers but there are other things that can cause a false positive,” adds Chadwick.

“I think it is safe to say it is a little bit nerve wrecking maybe the waiting period,” says Arrington.

But Arrington says the wait -- is ultimately lifesaving.

“This is our extended family; we are obviously not in this fight alone.”

Since December, nearly 1,200 kits have been completed.

Results from the first round are expected to come in next week.

To learn more about Cancer Dogs, head online.

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