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Screening High-Risk Women Veterans for Breast Cancer

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As the number of women veterans increases and the incidence of breast cancer in women veterans rise, chemoprevention options should follow national guidelines. To our knowledge, this is the only oncology study with 60% Black women veterans. This study had a higher participation rate for Black women veterans than is typically seen in national research studies and shows the VA to be a germane source for further understanding of an understudied population that may benefit from increased screening for breast cancer.

A team-based, multidisciplinary model that meets the unique healthcare needs of women veterans results in a patient-centric delivery of care for assessing breast cancer risk status and prevention options. This model can be replicated nationally by directing primary care physicians and women’s health practitioners to a risk-assessment questionnaire and referring high-risk women for appropriate preventative care. Given that these results show chemoprevention adherence rates doubled those seen nationally, perhaps techniques used within this VA pilot study may be adapted to decrease breast cancer incidence nationally.

Since the rate of PTSD among women veterans is triple the national average, we would expect adherence rates to be lower in our patient cohort. However, the multidisciplinary approach we used in this study (eg, 1:1 consultation with oncologist; genetic counseling referrals; mental health support available), may have improved adherence rates. Perhaps the high rates of PTSD seen in the VA patient population can be a useful way to explore patient adherence rates in those with mental illness and medical conditions.

Future research with a larger cohort may lead to greater insight into the correlation between PTSD and adherence to treatment. Exploring the connection between breast cancer, epigenetics, and specific military service-related exposures could be an area of analysis among this veteran population exhibiting increased breast cancer rates. VAMCs are situated in rural, suburban, and urban locations across the United States and offers a diverse socioeconomic and ethnic patient population for inclusion in clinical investigations. Women veterans make up a small subpopulation of women in the United States, but it is worth considering VA patients as an untapped resource for research collaboration.


The authors thank Steven Sanchez and Marissa Vallette, PhD, Breast Health Research Group. This research project was approved by the James J. Peters VA Medical Center Quality Executive Committee and the Washington, DC VA Medical Center Institutional Review Board. This work was supported by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. This work did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Author disclosures

The authors report no actual or potential conflicts of interest with regard to this article.


The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Federal Practitioner, Frontline Medical Communications Inc., the US Government, or any of its agencies.


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