Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CNN Airs News Story on Male Breast Cancer at Camp Lejeune

By Pam Stephan, About.com Guide to Breast Cancer

Mike Partain, male breast cancer survivor and former resident of Camp Lejeune, is back in the news again. Tune in to CNN on Thursday and Friday night (September 24th and 25th) at 8 p.m. EST. That's when you can see a two-part special about the 22 men who developed male breast cancer - most likely as a result of having lived at and consumed water from the base's supply from 1957 to 1987.

Now I would think that the Marines would protect their own water supply, wouldn't you? But during the time in question, dry cleaning chemicals were dumped into at least two water distribution systems at Camp Lejeune. Many Marines, Sailors, their families and civilian employees have been affected by the contamination. We're talking about drinking water that contained Tetrachloroethylene, Trichloroethylene, Vinyl Chloride, Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene. I wonder how anybody could stand to drink it, but perhaps it was a matter of people becoming accustomed to it over time. Trichloroethylene is used to degrease metal parts - my husband used to use it to clean broken tape recorders and VCRs when he worked in a repair shop. Benzene is used for lots of industrial processes, including petrochemical production. Xylene is a cleaning solvent - I used it to clean photostencils off of silk screens in college art classes. Toluene is used to make benzene and urethane - stuff that is used in paint, rubber, insulation, and golf balls. These things are commonly used in dry cleaning, and they do not belong in anyone's drinking water!

The Marine Corps still hasn't notified everyone who drank that water at Camp Lejeune - but the people who developed many kinds of cancer - including male breast cancer - as well as birth defects and miscarriages need to know, and to have their rights protected. These Marines are the folks that go out into danger to protect and defend this country - they should also be protected and treated well, and given the whole truth about their health risks.

Men have only a small amount of breast tissue, especially compared to women, so a man's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is quite rare. In fact, only about 1% of all breast cancer cases are diagnosed in men. When men are diagnosed with breast cancer, it's usually later in life, not when they are just 39 - like Mike Partain - and not in clumps of 22, as at Camp Lejeune. We know that cancer gets started as the result of mutated DNA, but we don't always know what breaks a person's DNA, and why it doesn't repair itself. Our modern diet, lifestyle, and environment seems to play a part in contributing to a rise in cancers of all types. But what if all the people that were exposed to the water at Camp Lejeune could be identified, informed, and surveyed - so the full extent of the effects of this health disaster could be properly studied? Would it lead to a new discovery about the development of cancer?

Mike Partain learned of the water contamination almost by accident, after his diagnosis. Turns out the Marine Corps had known about these chemicals in the base water supply since 1980. Mike parents were consuming the contaminated water in 1967, when they were expecting him. He was a small baby, born with a persistent skin rash, and developed other health problems as he grew up. His parents, along with many other base residents, have developed more than the average number of health problems. Camp LeJeune's water supply was contaminated for 30 years. This preventable water problem and the resulting health disaster may have affected an estimated 800,000 to 1 million former Marines and their families. It takes my breath away!

To learn more about this, tune in to CNN on Thursday and Friday night (September 24th and 25th) at 8 p.m. EST to hear Campbell Brown reporting on this story.

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