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Fireman diagnosis with a rare form of cancer

A fireman gets a rare cancer diagnosis usually associated with women. But doctors said that his job put his health at risk.

“Couple months back, I went to take a shower,” Charlie Russo said. “I took my shirt off. I realized I didn’t have a nipple on my left breast.”

That discovery led Russo, who works for the South Trail Fire & Rescue, to a diagnosis he thought he would never hear.

“It took me by surprise,” said Russo, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and lymphoma. “It took me shock.”

Russo has no family history of cancer. He had to have his left breast removed to stay ahead of it.

While breast cancer is usually associated with women, Lee Health Oncologist Dr. Venkata Parsa said, “from the United States, around 2,500 breast cancers are detected in patients who are male per year.”

Russo has been fighting fires at South Trail for 14 years. He said he never thought cancer would put his life at risk, only flames would.

But new research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health finds firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnosis and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the United States.

Dr. Parsa said it is due to how much radiation a person is exposed to and the chemicals he or she is also exposed to. But more research is needed to make a definitive link between the career and male breast cancer.

Despite the diagnosis, Russo is staying positive. He will start chemotherapy next week.

“I want to make sure with my brothers and sisters here at South Trail, that I’m the last to get cancer,” Russo said.

Russo urges all men, no matter what their profession, to do one thing. And he said this to save lives anyway he can.

“Get checked,” Russo said. “It’s only going to save your life.”

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