INTRODUCTION: Approximately 3% of invasive U.S. cancer diagnoses are made among veterans in a Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic each year, while VA patients only comprise about 1.9% of the U.S. population. Although some research has shown that veterans have higher incidence rates of cancer compared to civilians, evidence is sparse regarding possible disparities in rates of cancer screening between these populations. Thus, the purpose of this study is to compare differences in rates of screening for colorectal, lung, breast, and cervical cancers between current and former U.S. Military service members and civilians.
METHODS: Using the data extracted from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, we assessed the rates of cancer screening among current and former U.S. Military service members compared to civilians from self-reported surveys assessing when individuals had been screened for colorectal or lung cancer among all participants and breast and cervical cancer among women participants. Persons greater than 25 years of age were included in the cervical cancer screening, 50 years of age for colon cancer screening, and 40 years of age for the breast cancer screening-the latter based on recommendations from the American Cancer Society. We used multivariate logistic regression models to determine the adjusted risk ratios (ARRs) of current and former U.S. Military service members receiving screening compared to civilians, adjusting for age, gender, race, education, and health care coverage.
RESULTS: Current and former U.S. Military service members accounted for 2.6% of individuals included for the cervical cancer screening analysis, 2.2% for the breast cancer screening analyses, nearly 10% of the lung cancer screening, and 15% of the colorectal cancer (CRC) screening analyses. Prevalence of screening was higher for current and former U.S. Military service members among lung cancer and CRC. When controlling for age, race, education, and health care coverage, current and former U.S. Military service members were statistically more likely to be screened for CRC (ARR: 1.05; 95% confidence interval: 1.04-1.07) and lung cancer (ARR: 1.32; 95% confidence interval: 1.15-1.52). The odds of having completed a cervical or breast cancer screening were not significantly different between groups.
CONCLUSION: Our study showed that current and former U.S. Military service members were more likely to complete CRC and lung cancer screenings, while no significant difference existed between each population with regard to cervical and breast cancer screenings. This is one of the few studies that have directly compared cancer screening usage among civilians and current and former U.S. Military service members. Although current and former U.S. Military service members were more likely to receive several cancer screenings, improvements can still be made to remove barriers and increase screening usage due to the disproportionate rates of cancer mortality in this population. These solutions should be comprehensive-addressing personal, organizational, and societal barriers-to improve prognosis and survival rates among current and former U.S. Military service members.