If you think breast cancer is just something for your grandmother, mom and aunts to worry about, think again. Not only is breast cancer striking relatively young military women at alarming rates, but male service members, veterans and their dependents are at risk, as well.
With their younger and generally healthier population, those in the military tend to have a lower risk for most cancers than civilians, including significantly lower colorectal, lung and cervical cancer rates in certain groups.
But breast cancer is a different story.
"Military people in general, and in some cases very specifically, are at a significantly greater risk for contracting breast cancer," says Dr. Richard Clapp, a top cancer expert at Boston University. Clapp, who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on military breast cancer issues, says life in the military can mean exposure to a witch's brew of risk factors directly linked to greater chances of getting breast cancer.
Indeed, in a 2009 study, doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center found that breast cancer rates among military women are "significantly higher" -- that military women are 20% to 40% more likely to get the disease than other women in the same age groups.
Researchers point to a higher use of oral contraception -- also linked to breast cancer -- among military women as a possible culprit.
"Military women are also more likely to be engaged in industrial jobs than females in the general population and hence potentially more likely to be exposed to chemicals that may be related to breast cancer," researchers wrote in the study.
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