“We’ve got, over the past five years, 80+ individual men with the single commonality of male breast cancer and exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.This number just keeps on going up,” said Partain, now a community representative for the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Marine Corps officials dispute whether the base should be considered a "breast cancer cluster," however Boston University researcher Dr. Richard Clapp says, "This has all the characteristics of a male breast cancer cluster." Dr. Clapp works for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials believe as many as 1 million people may have been exposed to tainted water. A VA representative has said the approval rate for claims related to the contamination is only about 25% so far. As of September, 2012, the VA had granted only 17 breast cancer claims and denied 13 others.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said in a report earlier in Februrary, 2013, that an industrial solvent called TCE likely first exceeded the maximum contaminant level in August 1953 at Camp LeJeune. TCE is now a known human carcinogen. Other carcinogens were also found at Camp LeJeune.
In 2009, after he began experiencing shooting pain up his spine, doctors discovered that his cancer had metastasized. He's still fighting, currently undergoing chemotherapy to beat the cancer.
In the meantime, Devereaux is doing all he can to be an advocate, to raise awareness of male breast cancer. There's still a perception that breast cancer is a women's disease, and many men don't think it can happen to them.
"It's difficult for a lot of guys to come to grips with having, at the bottom line, a women's disease," he said. "We've still got a long ways to go, we've still got work to be done."
Fortunately for Devereaux, family and friends have rallied around. One of seven children, Devereaux said his family, his wife and his 15-year-old daughter have been incredibly supportive. "Cancer's not an individual sport, its a team sport."
Peter Devereaux, 50, was diagnosed with stage 3B invasive ductal carinoma in January 2008. Doctors discovered it had spread to his hips, ribs and spine in 2009.
He is one of 82 men who have been diagnosed with male breast cancer believed to have been caused by water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "It's the largest cluster ever recorded," Devereaux said.
Devereaux signed up for the Marines after graduating high school in 1980. He served until December 1984, and in that time spent 16 months at Camp Lejeune.
"At 19 years old in the service, you work out like crazy, you work hard, you're drinking water by the quarts," he said. "None of us knew about the contaminated water."
In 2008, Devereaux said he received a letter telling him he may have come in contact with contaminated water. By then, though, he had already found a lump in his chest.
After his diagnosis, he underwent a mastectomy followed by numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors removed 22 cancerous lymph nodes.
Breast cancer affects not just women veterans. The American Cancer Society estimates that breast cancer will be diagnosed in about 2,190 men in the U.S. and will kill about 410 men this year.Mike Partain was 39 when he got a mastectomy and started chemotherapy treatments. He wondered if his sickness was connected to reports that were surfacing about contaminated wells at Camp Lejeune, not sealed off until the mid-1980s. Soon he was talking with other men who had served at the base and gotten a similar diagnosis.
“We are now at 80 men with breast cancer from Camp Lejeune,” he reported during a recent CDC gathering on the issue.