Despite lower rates of colorectal, lung and cervical cancer, breast cancer is on the rise among both women and men in the military.
According to a study conducted at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, breast cancer rates among military women are higher than those of the general population. The study concluded that military women are 20 percent to 40 percent more likely to get the disease than other women in the same age groups. A higher use of oral contraception was also linked to breast cancer.
“Military people in general, and in some cases very specifically, are at a significantly greater risk for contracting breast cancer,” Dr. Richard Clapp, a cancer expert at Boston University, told The Military Times. “Life in the military can mean exposure to a witch’s brew of risk factors directly linked to greater chances of getting breast cancer.”
Women are not the only ones at risk. The American Cancer Society estimates that breast cancer will be diagnosed in about 2,190 men in the U.S. this year, and will kill about 410. A specific risk appears to be emerging among military men.
Mike Partain was diagnosed with male breast cancer at age 39.
“So we’ve got, over the past five years…80 individual men with the single commonality of male breast cancer and exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune,” Partain told The Military Times. “It seems this number just keeps on going up.”
According to the Times, a study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, from 2000 to 2011, 874 military women were diagnosed with breast cancer. The study also found that women deployed to war zones had to be evacuated because of suspected or confirmed breast cancer more “than for any other condition.”
A woman featured in the SCAR Project, an exhibition and online gallery of jarring topless portraits of breast cancer survivors baring their scars, was removed from the combat zone due to breast cancer.
“I have been in for over 17 years and 2 combat deployments. In February 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB Breast Cancer, four months after being deployed to Afghanistan,” a soldier identified only as “Barbie” writes in a blog post under her portrait, according to the Times.
“I don’t believe most people actually ‘see’ Breast Cancer,” she wrote. “It is just a terrible thing that happens to everyone else but could never happen to them. I hope that when they look at my photograph, they open their eyes and allow themselves to absorb and take it all in and really think about why this is happening to so many young women.”