What Women Veterans Need To Know About Breast Cancer



October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! It is important to keep up to date with current events about the disease and get checked every so often by health professionals. Veterans, active service members, and our supporters should learn more about this problem that can be fatal to anyone. Studies show about 1 in 8 U.S women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime1. Certain lifestyles bring a higher risk of getting cancer. Studies now show that if you’re a woman in the military, you are more likely to get breast cancer due to exposure to chemicals and radio emissions if your duties require you to work with either. Luckily, there are people who want to keep current and past service members aware of this and push for action to be able to get more accessible screenings while in the military. Purple Heart Foundation believes everyone should keep an eye on their health to prevent any illnesses such as Breast Cancer that can lead to death.


What Is Breast Cancer

It is important to understand at the basic level what breast cancer is and what to look out for. Breast cancer is a disease that occurs when changes take place in a person’s genes that control cell growth in the body. This mutation advances the multiplication of cells in your body with no control. When this mutation occurs in breast cells, it can form in different parts of the breast. This includes the fatty tissue, lobules, or ducts of the breast. Some symptoms of breast cancer include continuous pain in the breasts, redness of the skin on the breast, or rashes2. There are stages of breast cancer which define how big the tumor is and whether it is spreading. The stages are from 0-4. The evaluation by a doctor determines what stage the person is in. It is important to get checked and prevent cancer from spreading.



Service Members And Breast Cancer

Although both men and women can get breast cancer, it is more likely to occur in women. According to a study by the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in all women. The disease is estimated to be up to 40 percent higher in women veterans and service members than in the general population3. This is an alarming rate for women in uniform. Breast cancer for active-duty women is seven times higher compared to the average rate of fifteen other types of cancer for all service members4. One reason breast cancer affects service members and veterans is likely because of higher levels of stress, exposure to toxic chemicals from working industrial jobs, and other factors. Another reason is radio emissions, women that work as radio operators, electricians, and other jobs dealing with exposure to electromagnetic radiation are at a greater risk5. Veteran Kate Hendricks Thomas got a screening done at 38 years old and found out she had three different cancers. She says, “Now that I am a few years out, I tell everybody to get it checked. The enemy is lurking in our bodies6.” Doctors and women veterans are advocating for the younger demographic to get screened.


What Can Be Done?

The key is to be able to detect the disease as early as possible through regular health screenings and  check-ups by health professionals. Early detection can lead to getting early treatment. You can also check for any abnormalities that may show up through a self examination. Currently in congress, there is action being taken to push access for military women to have wider access to mammograms. It is a proposal that would allow breast cancer screenings for women in the U.S. military. The good news is it has passed through the Senate this year. If the bill passes, The Department of Veterans Affairs will be required to screen women who have served in areas where there were burn pits. The bill is now in the U.S. House and up for consideration7. We are a step closer to ensuring veterans have preventative care to live long and healthy lives. This is a good step toward helping military servicewomen get the help they need, and deserve


The military community has a responsibility to help our women, active members, and veterans, because of their sacrifice for our country. They have put their bodies on the line, so we must assure that they get the help they need to live a long and healthy life.


_1 https://www.voice4vet.org/breast-cancer-your-va-rating/

_2 https://www.voice4vet.org/breast-cancer-your-va-rating/


_4 https://cdmrp.health.mil/bcrp/pbks/bcrppbk2021.pdf

_https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/02/breast-cancer-troops/1608293 /


_7 https://oregoncapitalchronicle.com/briefs/wyden-pushes-proposal-to-expand-breast-cancer-screenings-for-women-in-military/