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Breast cancer: something everyone should be aware

Since 1985, the United States has observed part or all of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

One of the frontrunners kicking of this awareness platform was then-First Lady Betty Ford, who was a breast cancer survivor herself; having been diagnosed with the cancer during her husband’s tenure in the Oval Office.

Breast Cancer Awareness month was designed to educate women about early detection of breast cancer by screening mammograms and self-breast exams so that they could take charge of their breast health. However, though breast cancer is much more common in women-the most common cancer in females, men do develop breast cancer.  Men should also be made aware it is not totally unrealistic for them to receive a diagnosis for breast cancer as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that men have a 1 in 100 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. And though that may not be too high, there are several risk factors male Veterans should be aware of.

Here are some of the risk factors the CDC and the Mayo Clinic highlights:

  • Older age:  Male breast cancer is most often diagnosed in men in their 60s.
  • Family history: Those with a close family member with breast cancer.
  • Hormone therapy treatment: Those taking estrogen-related drugs, such as those used for hormone therapy for prostate cancer.
  • Certain testicular conditions: Having inflamed testicles (orchitis) or surgery to remove a testicle (orchiectomy) can increase risk.
  • Liver disease: Certain conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones.
  • Overweight and obesity: Obesity is associated with higher levels of estrogen in the body

Some of these risk factors alone should have men periodically checking themselves, but let’s include some other statistics.

According to the VHA Office of Research and Development, in 2014 it was estimated that nearly 80 percent of Veterans were classified as overweight or obese.

In April 2021, Pew Research estimated than nearly 90% of the 5.9 Veterans in the U.S. are males and more than 65% of those males 50 years of age or older.

In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, more than 60 percent of the male Veterans in the study  were diagnosed with breast cancer at stage II higher as compare to female Veterans where 60% had early stage I. Additionally, study also suggested than male Veterans  were 33% more likely than women to die from breast cancer.

Dr. Anita Aggarwal, an oncologist at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center, and a leader in male breast cancer research, especially among Veteran patients, has suggested this late detection in our male Veterans is likely from the lack of any screening test for males and the “Awareness that men can also have breast Cancer”

If this isn’t enough to have male Veterans checking themselves for breast cancer, at least periodically, if not monthly, take this into consideration…

Those who were stationed at places like Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The VA’s Public Health site reads: “From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals.” This affects all the Marines, their family members, and other service member who spent more than 30 days at the base between August 1953 and December 1987.

As a result, the VA has listed breast cancer among the health conditions covered by the VA under the 2012 Camp Lejeune health care law.