(NaturalNews) In a finding that has researchers vexed, researchers are discovering that both female and male members of the U.S. armed forces are experiencing a rise in breast cancer.
What's even more perplexing to researchers is the fact that, historically, cancer rates among military members have been low compared to the remainder of the population, especially for lung, cervical and colorectal cancers, said Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
That, however, is changing.
More and more men and women in the military "have been diagnosed with breast cancer at young ages, as female soldiers are 20 to 40 percent more likely to get the disease," the paper said.
"Military people in general, and in some cases very specifically, are at a significantly greater risk for contracting breast cancer," Dr Richard Clapp, a top cancer expert at Boston University, told the Marine Corps Times. Clapp also works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where he focuses on military breast cancer.
Rates among women 'significantly higher'
Clapp says a number of reasons could be responsible for the alarming rise in cancer rates, which include higher use of birth control - where a known link exists.
That could explain the higher rate of breast cancer among females, but what about among male soldiers?
A 2009 study by doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center could provide a possible answer: Researchers found that higher rates of disease could instead be tied to increased exposure to dangerous chemicals.
The study found "significantly higher" breast cancer rates for military women; they are 20-40 percent more likely to get the disease than other women in the same age groups, USA Today reported.
"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.
Yet, male soldiers hold many of those same jobs, and they have for many years. Why the sudden rise?
Researchers - and some lawmakers - want to know.
"It is a well-documented fact that one of the highest forms of cancer among our service members and veterans is breast cancer," Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, D-Iowa, told USA Today, who added that he's been trying to pass legislation since 2009 to look into the issue.
Trying to find the answers
Boswell - a 20-year Army helicopter pilot who flew two combat tours in Vietnam - made the decision to take up the issue when a staffer of his, an Iraq war veteran, came back from a five-year reunion with tough news. The staffer discovered that six of the 70 women who deployed with the unit - all of them between 25 and 35 years old - developed breast cancer within five years of returning home. Another six women from the same unit had developed worrisome new lumps in their breasts.
That was too coincidental for Boswell, who has repeatedly called on the Pentagon to look into the issue. Unfortunately for our service members, his bills have repeatedly stalled in committee. He reintroduced legislation again in April, though, which he says he hopes will force the Defense Department "to dig deeper in order to discover whether there is a service-related cause for the alarming rate of those members who are diagnosed."
If his suspicions are confirmed - that somehow, these service members are being exposed to something in connection with their military service - he wants Defense officials to eventually classify breast cancer as a service-related disability, which would clear the way for them to receive Veterans Administration benefits for treatment.
Reports said an unusual amount of breast cancer cases in men have occurred in men who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where one of two U.S. Marine Corps training bases is located.