Veterans Input Needed on Environmental Breast Cancer Study

The Institute of Medicine will study the relationship between the environment and breast cancer.  Veterans are encouraged to submit written comments and/or oral testimony to the Institute of Medicine.  

(WASHINGTON, DC) –  The Institute of Medicine (IOM) plans to conduct a research study of the link between breast cancer and the environment.  The likelihood of men having breast cancer  has been rising in both young and old men in recent years.

The IOM research study will result in both a technical report and summary for the public in summer 2011. Additional information about this study and the members of the committee is available at http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49208

Veterans may be at a higher risk for male breast cancer than other males.  CNN, for example, last year received reports of veterans with male breast cancer from over 50 Marine veterans of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  Other veterans may be a higher risk for this rare disease because of the environmental hazards many veterans are exposed to.   Veterans are encouraged to provide written and/or oral testimony to the IOM at an April 14th-15th meeting in Washington, DC, and during the first week of July in San Francisco.  Details are provided in this news story.

The research study was requested by The Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, which funds research grants and community-based outreach projects that focus on breast health education, screening and treatment.  The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 to serve as adviser to the nation to improve health under the National Academy of Science.

Male breast care is a rare form of cancer which may be linked to environmental hazards.  The Institute of Medicine research study will focus primarily on published peer-reviewed literature.  Studies have been done on males with breast cancer, but not specifically with veterans with male breast cancer.

Male and female veterans who are concerned about breast cancer risks from exposures during military service are strongly encouraged to submit comments and/or provide oral testimony to the IOM.  For those who can’t make the trip to Washington or San Francisco, telephone testimony is available.

The common thread for the Camp Lejeune veterans appears to be service at this Marine Corps base and exposure to the contaminated water.   Two separate water distribution systems aboard Camp Lejeune were found to be contaminated with organic solvents.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is currently studying the effects of toxic exposure from organic solvents at Lejeune’s base wells.  ATSDR’s water modeling for the Tarawa Terrace water distribution system determined the system was contaminated over a 30 year period (1957 to 19876).  Water modeling for the Hadnot Point water distribution system is underway but has not been completed.

The high incidence of male breast cancers at Camp Lejeune may be linked to the contaminated water on the base.   In addition, there are reports of male breast cancer among Marines who served at the El Toro Marine Corps base in California. Male breast cancer is rare, and it is extraordinarily rare at the relatively young ages that these men were diagnosed.

Military veterans and others with breast cancer can provide written comments or give oral testimony to the IOM committee, according to an informed IOM source.

According to a September 2009 news report from CNN, breast cancer “strikes fewer than 2,000 men in the United States a year, compared with about 200,000 women.”

CNN’s Special Investigation Unit in September 2009 initially identified 20 Marine veterans or sons of veterans who were stationed or lived at Camp Lejeune who had this rare disease.  The count quickly drew to over 50 males as a result of the publicity from the news story.

In October 2009, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee met to discuss the Departments of Veterans Affairs’ and Defense Department’s respond to in-service exposures to ensure that healthcare and compensation is provided to those harmed from environmental hazards in the military.  Compelling testimony was provided from those injured in the military.  See:  http://veterans.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?action=release.display&release_id=8e6c9acc-ae05-41de-a5f6-484ea25a52bc

The common thread were that all of these men were based or lived at Camp Lejeune between the 1960s and the 1980s when the base wells were contaminated with organic solvents, including trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and benzene, all known to cause cancer.

According to Dr. Kathy Burns, a toxicologist and Director of the Massachusetts-based Sciencecorps, servicemen exposed to chemicals capable of causing cancer have higher risks for most cancers. The scientific evidence that breast cancer in women can be caused by toxic chemicals and radiation is very strong. It’s likely that breast cancer in men can also be caused by the same agents, and many Marines encounter these in their work and through living on military bases.

There’s no requirement for the government to notify veterans of their possible exposure to contaminants and the health effects on a military base, even when the base is an EPA Superfund.  There are about 130 military bases on the EPA Superfund list. The Air Force reported 1,400 sites contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE).  TCE is an excellent degreaser and was widely used by the military for decades.  This chemical is a recognized carcinogen, but there’s no evidence that exposure to TCE is a cause of male breast cancer.

According to the Marine Corps there’s no link between the well water contamination at Camp Lejeune, military service and male breast cancer.  A number of Marine veterans of Camp Lejeune strongly disagree.  Jim Fontella is one of them.

Courtesy: CNN, Jim Fontella, Lejeune Veteran

Jim Fontella was stationed at Camp Lejeune in 1966 and 1967.  He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998.

Fontella told CNN that “it’s unheard of to have 20 men come from the same place, walking on the same dirt, drinking the same water.  I mean, there has to be a link there somehow. And they’re saying that it couldn’t happen.”

CNN reported that “Dr. John Kiluk, a breast cancer surgeon at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, said he’s startled by the common threads among the group.”

According to Dr. Kiluk, “The average breast cancer patient for males is about 70 years.  So when you have gentlemen in their 30s stepping forward, without a family history of breast cancer that is alarming.  And the question is, why?  Why is this happening?”

Major William Mimiaga, a retired Marine who served at MCAS El Toro, California, knows firsthand the effects of male breast cancer.  The 2006 California Teacher of the Year was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, the latest incident in 2009.  Major Mimiaga never served at Camp Lejeune but did serve several tours at MCAS El Toro, an EPA Superfund contaminated with organic solvents and other contaminants.  He retired from the Marine Corps in 1994 and became a Special Education teacher in Long Beach, California.

Major Mimiaga’s comments on the environmental hazards faced by Marines support the risks associated with military service and the possible link between the environment and breast cancer and other cancers:

Courtesy: DOD, Major William Mimaga, USMC

“Wherever there was or is Marine Corps equipment, Motor Transport, Engineers, Tanks or Aircraft…..you have multiple levels of pollution; from mixes of fuels being burnt that are airborne inhaled, to the mixture of chemicals, lubricants and solvents used to maintain and keep this equipment clean and serviced. Inhaled or contamination by touch, there was absolutely no way to avoid it. In addition, these degreasers and solvents used to clean and maintain equipment were not placed in drums for pickup to hazardous waste sites, the mixture of contaminants and water just went down whatever existing sewer system that existed or was just allowed to soak into the ground.”

”Returning equipment from Vietnam was cleaned in this like manner except it was done in streams or running bodies of water if available. No telling what those pollutants caused the local population as the sprayed on undercoating was just simply scraped away and allowed to runoff into the stream bed or simply soaked into the existing water table….with the military bases runoff into the existing base sewer system.”

“It seems I might be redundant on many of these issues but with every base that I was stationed in CONUS and overseas the practice remained the same.  After 31 years of servicing Marine Corps equipment, I am surprised that I am even functional enough to write this email. It would be interesting to research how many Motor T and Engineer retired Marines have been diagnosed with catastrophic illnesses above the norm for their same aged civilian counterparts. I know of many Motor T Marines that have died of cancer or cancer related illnesses over the past two decades.”

Dr. Burns is concerned that Bill Mimiaga’s case and the Camp Lejeune breast cancer victims may be just the tip of the iceberg. She emphasized that the IOM and other government panels need to point out the importance of studying male breast cancer, unique risks faced by those in the Armed Services, and the importance of improving overall cancer prevention efforts.

The IOM committee welcomes comments from veterans and other concerned individuals and organizations about its task and particularly on the following questions:

1.  What are your concerns and priorities regarding environmental risk factors for breast cancer?

2.  What information should the committee be aware of?

3.  What is the most important contribution the committee can make?

Input can be provided to the committee through written comments and materials submitted over the course of the study, and through brief presentations at committee meetings that will be held over the next few months.

The IOM’s Committee on Breast Cancer and the Environment is holding its first meeting on April 14-15, 2010 at the National Academy of Sciences Keck Building. The second meeting will be held in San Francisco area in the first full week of July 2010.  Those interested in providing a brief presentation to the committee in April 14 or in early July should contact Jane Durch ([email protected]) or Cassandra Cacace ([email protected]).  On April 14th, public comments will be heard during the mid to late afternoon. Time constraints may limit the number of speakers who can be accommodated, but all written submissions will be welcome.

Written materials can be submitted to the committee through the IOM staff at the e-mail or postal addresses shown below. Please note that any comments or materials submitted to the committee in paper or electronic form will normally become part of the study’s public record.

Questions about the study or providing materials for the committee’s consideration should be directed to co-study directors Lois Joellenbeck ([email protected]) or Jane Durch ([email protected]).

Institute of Medicine, Keck 775

500 Fifth Street, NW

Washington, DC 20001

[email protected]



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