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NBC News "Rock Center with Brian Williams" Features University Expert

Interviewed About Male Breast Cancer Cluster at a U.S. Marine Base

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Epidemiologist Richard Clapp was interviewed on campus by NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

By Karen Angelo

University researcher and cancer epidemiologist Richard Clapp appeared on NBC News “Rock Center with Brian Williams” program on Feb. 22 in an interview with the network’s Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman. 

Clapp addressed high rates of male breast cancer at the U. S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. 

“My interview was part of a longer segment about male breast cancer,” says Clapp, who has often been called upon by the media, including “60 Minutes,” to discuss links between toxics and cancer. “I hope that viewers will learn about this rare type of cancer and also get a better understanding of its potential environmental causes.” 

Clapp’s interview with Snyderman took place in November in Wannalancit. The producer and film crew set up cameras, lighting, monitors and other technology – transforming the first-floor conference room into a makeshift TV studio. 

“Nancy Snyderman is a very smart and professional interviewer,” says Clapp. 

Snyderman and the crew also interviewed one of the Camp Lejeune Marine veterans and current North Andover resident Pete Devereaux at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston where he was receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. 

“Human Test Lab” May Offer Strongest Link Yet 

Clapp, who conducts research at the University’s Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, is advising the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a study that examines whether contaminated drinking water is to blame for a “cluster” of male breast cancer diagnoses at Camp Lejeune. 

From the 1950s through 1987, Marines and their families drank and bathed in water contaminated with toxins at concentrations 240 to 3,400 times permitted by safety standards, and at least 850 former residents have filed claims for nearly $4 billion from the military. The water was contaminated by toxics including trichloroethylene, a degreaser; perchloroethylene, a dry cleaning solvent; and benzene, most commonly used as a gasoline additive. 

“When the two-year study is published, it will be the best look yet at answering the question of whether contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune is linked to male breast cancer in the Marines who lived there,” says Clapp. “Since male breast cancer is so rare — less than one percent of all cancers — the studies will have more statistical power than previous ones for making the link between toxics and breast cancer in men and women.” 

It’s been tough to make links between cancer and environmental exposures in the past due to a small number of cases and inadequate information about the exposures. 

“It’s sad but true, that the male breast cancer cases at Camp Lejeune offer scientists a ‘human test lab,’” says Clapp. 

The Camp Lejeune research is one of an ongoing series of studies that include the Woburn childhood leukemia cluster and the Upper Cape Cod cancer studies. 

“The more links that are shown, the stronger the evidence to reduce hazards at the source with solutions such as toxics use reduction, green chemistry and alternatives assessment,” says Clapp.