Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military forces used a herbicide called Agent Orange to destroy plant life, crops and leaves which the enemy used for cover and food. When returning home, many veterans reported a number of diseases and illnesses, attributing them to Agent Orange. (See list) According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, some of the cancers which may have been caused by this toxin are:
- Chronic B-cell Leukemia
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Recent research has also shown an increase in skin cancer in veterans who served during the time Agent Orange was used. This study, which was published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, indicated that those exposed to Agent Orange were at a higher risk of developing non-melanoma invasive skin cancer. The researchers examined the medical records of 100 veterans on the Agent Orange registry at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Washington D.C. According to the records, the men were all exposed to Agent Orange in some way during their time in Vietnam:
- 56 percent lived or worked in contaminated areas
- 30 percent were involved in spraying the herbicide
- 14 percent traveled to contaminated areas
Researchers found that 51 percent of the men had non-melanoma invasive skin cancer. This is about double the rate for men of the same age and similar skin coloring (only those with lighter skin were included in the study.) For those directly involved in spraying Agent Orange, the rate increased to 73 percent. Researchers also looked at malignant melanoma rates but did not see any increase in risk for these types of skin cancer.
According to BioNewsTexas, studies looking into a link between Agent Orange and skin cancer were also done back in the 1980s after some cases of aggressive non-melanoma cancers in veterans exposed to Agent Orange were reported. The U.S. Veterans Office never added skin cancer to the list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange and therefore have never paid for medical services needed for skin cancer in Vietnam veterans.
The current study has some limitations, for example, researchers could not verify the extent of the exposure to Agent Orange and based their finding on the veteran’s recall of events that occurred several decades ago. In addition, they were not able to include a control group - veterans who served in Vietnam but were not exposed to Agent Orange. The results, however, are strong enough that further studies should be completed, according to the lead researcher, Dr. Clemens.
What You Need to Know:
The U.S. Veterans Administration has an Agent Orange Registry. Veterans who add their name to this registry receive a comprehensive health examination free of charge at a local or nearby VA Medical Center. Based on the results of the examination, veterans receive medical care and financial benefits for health problems associated with Agent Orange. You can contact the VA at 800-749-8387.
A letter included on the website for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery states, "We are asking if anyone has cared for patients exposed to Agent Orange who also display diffuse and aggressive patterns of basal cell carcinoma. We know of two such patients seen and treated at the VA Hospital in San Diego. The military and the CDC are not surprisingly close-mouthed about the sequelae to Agent Orange exposure. Address replies to: UCSD Medical Center H-890, 225 Dickinson St., San Diego, CA, 92105."
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.