PALO ALTO, CA – How do common military environmental exposures affect the risk of breast cancer in military servicemembers and veterans?

That was the question tackled in a recent study published in Frontiers of Oncology. “The effects of military environmental exposures (MEE) such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), tactile herbicides, airborne hazards and open burn pits (AHOBP), and depleted uranium on health are salient concerns for servicemembers and veterans,” wrote researchers from the VA Palo Alto, CA, Healthcare System and colleagues. “However, little work has been done to investigate the relationship between MEE and risk of breast cancer.”

The study team conducted a scoping review on MEE, military deployment/service, and risk of breast cancer among active-duty service members and veterans. Using PRISMA, the researchers searched PubMed, Embase, and citations of included articles. The resulted in 4,364 articles to screen and 28 ultimately selected for the analysis.

“Most papers on military deployment and military service found a lower/equivalent risk of breast cancer when comparing rates to those without deployment or civilians,” the study found. “Exposure to VOCs due to military occupation or contaminated groundwater was associated with a slightly higher risk of breast cancer.”

On the other hand, the authors pointed out that exposure to Agent Orange was not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. “Evidence regarding EDCs was limited. No paper directly measured exposure to AHOBP or depleted uranium, but deployments with known exposures to AHOBP or depleted uranium were associated with an equivalent/lower risk of breast cancer,” they added.

The article advised that women are the fastest growing population within the military, and “breast cancer poses a unique risk to women veterans who were affected by MEE during their service.”

The researchers said, however, “Unfortunately, the literature on MEE and breast cancer is mixed and limited, in part due to the Healthy Soldier Paradox and poor classification of exposure(s).”

  1. Jester DJ, Assefa MT, Grewal DK, Ibrahim-Biangoro eAM, Jennings JS, Adamson MM. Military environmental exposures and risk of breast cancer in active-duty personnel and veterans: a scoping review. Front Oncol. 2024 Mar 13;14:1356001. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2024.1356001. PMID: 38544835; PMCID: PMC10965704.