SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

Approximately 3 million Americans served in the armed forces in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Some of them (as well as some Vietnamese combatants and civilians, and members of the armed forces of other nations) were exposed to defoliant mixtures, including Agent Orange. Evidence suggests some lasting health effects from these exposures, including certain cancers. This article reviews the evidence on cancer risk after Agent Orange exposure. Data sources include studies of Vietnam veterans, workers occupationally exposed to herbicides or dioxins (since dioxins contaminated the herbicide mixtures used in Vietnam), and Vietnamese populations. The article then reviews clinical issues that arise when caring for cancer patients who may have sustained Agent Orange exposure, or others concerned about such exposure to Agent Orange, such as available benefits programs and sources of information and counseling.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

Approximately 3 million Americans served in the armed forces in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s, the time of the Vietnam War. During that time, the military applied large amounts of defoliant mixtures, including so-called Agent Orange, with resultant exposure of some troops. To this day, three decades after US forces withdrew from Vietnam, questions remain about the lasting health consequences, including cancer risk, of those exposures among veterans. As the veteran population ages, and as epidemiologic studies continue, further evidence continues to emerge. Most recently, in early 2003, a new conclusion was reached: that Agent Orange exposure is associated with chronic lymphocytic leukemia among veterans. This decision triggered various benefits for exposed veterans with that disease.

This article offers a brief overview of the health evidence on Agent Orange and cancer, to help clinicians serve Vietnam veteran patients and their family members. The evidence comes from several sources including studies of Vietnam veterans, workers exposed to herbicides or dioxins (since dioxins contaminated the herbicide mixtures used in Vietnam) in occupational settings, and studies of health effects among Vietnamese populations in the aftermath of the war. This article does not offer a complete review of all these lines of evidence. Instead, it summarizes the evidence briefly, and introduces readers to benefits programs and other issues that arise in caring for cancer patients or others concerned about the risks from exposure to Agent Orange during military service.

BACKGROUND

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

During the Vietnam War, United States military forces sprayed nearly 19 million gallons of herbicide on approximately 3.6 million acres of Vietnamese and Laotian land to remove forest cover, destroy crops, and clear vegetation from the perimeters of US bases. This effort, known as Operation Ranch Hand, lasted from 1962 to 1971. Various herbicide formulations were used, but most were mixtures of the phenoxy herbicides 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). Each formulation was shipped in a chemical drum marked with an identifying colored stripe. The most widely used mixture contained equal parts 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Because this herbicide came in drums with orange stripes, it was called Agent Orange. Today, Agent Orange is used to refer generally to all the phenoxy herbicides sprayed at the time.1 In addition to the phenoxy herbicides, other herbicides used included cacodylic acid, an organic arsenic compound, and picloram, a chlorobenzoic acid herbicide.

The 2,4,5-T was contaminated with minute amounts of dioxins as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dioxins are a family of biologically active chlorinated aromatic compounds formed during combustion of chlorine-containing materials, manufacturing of paper, and other processes. Because they persist for years in the environment, they form part of a group of chemicals known as “persistent organic pollutants.” The particular dioxin present in Agent Orange, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, is unusually toxic. In postwar studies that compared Vietnam veterans with contemporary veterans who had served elsewhere, TCDD levels were found to be elevated among those who had served in Vietnam,2–4 although the elevations diminished slowly over time.

After a scientific report in 1970 indicated that 2,4,5-T could cause birth defects in laboratory animals, the use of 2,4,5-T in Vietnam was suspended.5 A year later, all military herbicide use in Vietnam ended. During the 1970s, returned Vietnam veterans began to report skin rashes, cancer, psychological symptoms, congenital anomalies and handicaps in their children, and other health problems. Some veterans were concerned that Agent Orange exposure might have contributed to these health problems. These concerns helped initiate a series of scientific studies, health care programs, and compensation programs directed to the exposed veterans. A large class-action lawsuit was filed in 1979 against the herbicide manufacturers, including Dow, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules, Uniroyal, and others, and settled out of court in 1984. It resulted in the Agent Orange Settlement Fund, which distributed nearly $200 million to veterans between 1988 and 1996. Although there is now considerable evidence available about the effects of Agent Orange exposure, large uncertainties remain.

AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

Approximately 3 million US military personnel served in Vietnam during the course of the war, of whom about 1.5 million served during the period of heaviest herbicide spraying, 1967 to 1969. Exposure to Agent Orange varied considerably. Most of the large-scale spraying operations in Operation Ranch Hand were conducted using airplanes and helicopters. However, some herbicides were sprayed from boats and ground vehicles, and some were applied by soldiers with backpack sprayers. Ranch Hand personnel who loaded airplanes and helicopters probably sustained some of the heaviest exposures. Members of the Army Chemical Corps, who stored and mixed herbicides and defoliated the perimeters of military bases, are also thought to have had some of the heaviest exposures.4 Others with potentially heavy exposures included members of Special Forces units who defoliated remote campsites, and members of Navy river units who cleared base perimeters.6–12 Exposures could have occurred through inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption and possibly through more unusual routes such as through skin lesions and ocular absorption.

One of the challenges in assessing the health effects of Agent Orange exposure is quantifying the exposures. There is little precise information for any individual veteran, about how much exposure he or she sustained, or even to what herbicides.

ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

Human Evidence

Epidemiologic studies of Vietnam veterans potentially provide the most direct evidence of the health effects of Agent Orange exposure. However, because of the small number of highly exposed persons, these studies yield very limited information on cancer. The Vietnam Experience Study (VES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),13 was a historical cohort study that compared 9324 Vietnam Army veterans with 8989 Vietnam-era Army veterans who served elsewhere. It included a mortality study; health interviews; and clinical, psychological, and laboratory evaluation of a random sample of veterans who completed the health interview. The total number of cancer deaths in the VES was inadequate to yield information on specific cancer types. A related effort was the CDC Selected Cancers Study, a population-based case-control study conducted in eight cancer registries that provided data on non-Hodgkin lymphoma,14 sarcomas,15 and other cancers.16 In all of these studies, the number of veterans with substantial exposure to Agent Orange was too small to support firm conclusions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, formerly the Veterans Administration (VA), also conducted a series of studies beginning in the 1980s. The VA studies ranged from large-scale cohort studies17–19 to case-control studies20 to studies of specific subgroups of veterans.

Both the CDC and the VA studies looked broadly at Vietnam service, without a special focus on Agent Orange exposure (although some VA studies focused on Chemical Corps veterans21,22). In contrast, a third study, the Air Force Health Study, focused specifically on approximately 1200 Ranch Hand veterans directly involved in herbicide distribution and 1300 comparison veterans.23–25 This 20-year prospective study, launched in 1982, involved periodic physical examinations, medical records reviews, and blood dioxin measurements. Information is available at the Air Force Research Laboratory Web site (http://www.brooks.af.mil/AFRL/HED/hedb/afhs/afhs.html). Although this study focused more directly on Agent Orange exposure, the relatively small number of subjects, and the even smaller number with elevated TCDD levels, greatly limited the statistical power to detect increases in cancer incidence.

At the state level, about a dozen states, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, conducted studies of their veterans, some of which yielded cancer information (eg, New York;26 Massachusetts;27 Wisconsin;28 Michigan29). Finally, a series of studies of Australian Vietnam veterans yielded information on cancer risk.30–33 These studies, too, were limited by small sample sizes, by the absence of detailed exposure assessment, and at least initially by the relatively young age of the veteran populations. As the Vietnam veterans continue to age, additional research should yield additional information about cancer risk.

Because of the limits of the Vietnam veteran studies, indirect sources have provided important information on the potential carcinogenicity of Agent Orange exposure. One of these is data on Vietnamese soldiers and civilians exposed to the same herbicides as United States service personnel, often for more prolonged periods,34–38 although there have been few systematic health studies in these populations. A second indirect source of information is workers exposed to herbicides in other settings, such as herbicide manufacturing workers,39–43 herbicide applicators,44 farmers,45 lumberjacks,46 and forest and soil conservationists,47 who often had much higher serum dioxin levels than Vietnam veterans. Third, people exposed to dioxins after industrial accidents in Germany,48,49 Seveso, Italy,50 and California,51 and after chronic exposures at work52–54 and in the environment55 have been studied. Each of these populations differs from the Vietnam veterans in demographic composition, the nature of the dioxin exposures, and other factors such as diet and concomitant chemical exposures.

Based on this relatively large body of epidemiologic evidence, conclusions can be drawn about several cancers. Each of these is discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Studies of Vietnam veterans have not demonstrated an increase in soft tissue sarcomas. In particular, no association with soft tissue sarcoma was seen in the Ranch Hand study,24 in a study of 10,716 Marines who had served in Vietnam,18 a large case-control study of sarcoma patients in VA hospitals,56 the Selected Cancers Study,15 or studies of veterans in Michigan,29 Massachusetts,27 or other states. A study of Australian Vietnam veterans suggested a large increase in soft tissue sarcomas, but this finding was based on a mail survey of self-reported diagnoses.32 In a follow-up study designed to validate the diagnoses, the excess of soft tissue sarcomas could not be verified.33

However, soft tissue sarcomas have been linked to phenoxy herbicide exposure by a series of case-control studies in Sweden57,58 and by cohort39,40 and case-control41 studies of industrially exposed workers. Many studies of farmers and agricultural workers show an increase in soft tissue sarcomas, which may relate to herbicide exposure. Soft tissue sarcomas have also been linked to dioxin exposure, in a study of 5132 chemical manufacturing workers in the United States,53 in some other occupational studies,59 and in some studies of environmental exposures.60

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Most studies of Vietnam veterans have not demonstrated an increase in non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). The Selected Cancers Study showed that Vietnam service was associated with a 50% increased risk of NHL, but self-reported Agent Orange exposure was not associated with increased risk.14 Similarly, in the CDC's Vietnam Experience Study, there were seven NHL deaths among the 8,170 Vietnam veterans and only one NHL death among the 7,564 non-Vietnam veterans. Based on military job titles, there was no suggestion that the seven Vietnam veterans with NHL had sustained Agent Orange exposure.61 In contrast, the Ranch Hand study showed no increase in NHL,62 nor did the VA mortality study of 33,833 Army and Marine Vietnam veterans,19 a case-control study of 201 Vietnam veterans with NHL,63 or numerous state-level studies. A study of Australian Vietnam veterans suggested a large increase in NHL, but this finding was based on a mail survey of self-reported diagnoses.32 In a validation study that attempted to confirm the diagnoses, the number of NHL cases declined to the upper end of the expected range.33

Several case-control studies have found an association between phenoxy herbicide exposure (usually on the job) and NHL.64–67 Numerous other studies of farmers and agricultural workers also suggest this association, although cohort studies of herbicide production workers have generally been negative or report nonsignificant associations based on very small numbers of cases. Dioxin exposure was not associated with NHL in either the NIOSH occupational study54 or the Seveso follow-up,50 although a recent study of a dioxin-exposed area near a municipal solid waste incinerator in France60 suggested a small increase in NHL.

Hodgkin Disease

Studies of Vietnam veterans have not demonstrated an increase in Hodgkin disease. In particular, the Ranch Hand study did not show an increase in these tumors,62 nor did a study of 33,833 Army and Marine Vietnam veterans,19 the Selected Cancers Study,16 a case-control study of 283 Vietnam-era veterans with Hodgkin disease,68 or studies of veterans in Michigan,29 New York,26 or other states.

However, Hodgkin disease was linked to phenoxy herbicide and chlorophenol exposure in one case-control study in Sweden,64,69 and another yielded similar results, although without statistical significance.65 Many studies of farmers and agricultural workers show an increase in Hodgkin disease, which may relate to herbicide exposure. The link between Hodgkin disease and dioxin exposure is less clear. The large occupational study of 5,132 chemical manufacturing workers in the United States53,54 did not show an increase in Hodgkin disease. The Seveso follow-up showed no cases of Hodgkin disease in the zone of greatest dioxin exposure, and a small excess of cases in the other zones.50 Other studies have given mixed results.

Respiratory Cancers

Studies of Vietnam veterans have not shown a consistent pattern of increases in respiratory cancers (lung, trachea/bronchus, larynx). The VA studies did not reveal increased mortality from these cancers in Vietnam veterans,19,70 nor did the study of Army Chemical Corps veterans.22 The Ranch Hand study suggested an increase in lung cancer, with a relative risk of 3.7, but this finding was based on only 10 deaths, and a high prevalence of smoking in the Ranch Hand population may have accounted for this finding.62 In studies of Australian Vietnam veterans, self-reports suggested an increase in lung cancer (120 cases versus 65 expected),32 but in the validation study, only 46 of these self-reported cases could be confirmed, suggesting a deficit of lung cancer.33

Most studies of workers with occupational herbicide exposure, such as herbicide manufacturing workers,39,40,42,43 herbicide applicators,44 farmers,45 and forest and soil conservationists47 have shown no excess of lung cancer. Similarly, follow-up of the Seveso accident has not shown an association between dioxin exposure and lung cancer,50 although follow-up of industrial accidents in Germany48 and California51 did suggest an increase in respiratory cancers, based on small numbers of cases. Chronic workplace exposures to dioxin have also been associated with increased respiratory cancer, among those with enough exposure to have developed chloracne.54 Together, these data provide little support for the hypothesis that chlorophenoxy acids increase the risk of lung cancer, but they suggest a possible association of dioxin exposure with lung cancer.

Prostate Cancer

While the VA19 and Ranch Hand62 studies did not show an excess of prostate cancer, the Australian veterans study (AIHW) did show an excess, with 212 cases observed and 147 expected.33 Studies of other groups have yielded inconsistent results. Most studies of workers occupationally exposed to phenoxyacetic acid herbicides do not show an excess of prostate cancer. However, there are exceptions. For example, recent studies of pesticide applicators in Florida (exposed to many agents other than herbicides) reported an approximate doubling of prostate cancer incidence and mortality.71,72 Follow-up of the Seveso accident revealed a nonsignificant 20% excess of prostate cancer,50 as did the NIOSH study of chronic dioxin exposure.54 However, follow-up of other acute dioxin exposure incidents48,51 showed no excess of prostate cancer. Overall, the evidence of an association between Agent Orange and prostate cancer is not strong.

Multiple Myeloma

None of the studies of Vietnam veterans are informative regarding multiple myeloma risk, because the numbers of cases have been consistently small. However, other studies of people exposed to pesticides, herbicides, and/or dioxins have been suggestive. For example, several studies of farmers and agricultural workers have reported a small increase in multiple myeloma, although other studies show no excess of this neoplasm.73 Follow-up of the Seveso accident shows a deficit of multiple myeloma among exposed males but an excess among females (relative risk 3.7 based on four cases), a disparity that remains unexplained.50 Similarly, the NIOSH study of 5,132 workers exposed to dioxins showed a marginally significant doubling of multiple myeloma risk, based on 10 cases.54 Overall the evidence linking Agent Orange to multiple myeloma is sparse and indirect.

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia in the Children of Veterans

Three studies have pointed to an association between paternal Agent Orange exposure and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in children. The first was a case-control study of 204 children with AML, reported by the Children's Cancer Study Group, a US-Canada consortium.74 The odds ratio associated with paternal long-term occupational pesticide exposure was 2.7 (95% CI, 1.0–7.0). As for maternal exposure, seven case mothers and no control mothers reported such exposure. The risk was elevated for children diagnosed before the age of six and for children who had sustained direct pesticide exposure. “Pesticides” in this study included both insecticides and herbicides, so it is not clear which agents were associated with the increased risk. The second study was a survey of nearly 50,000 Australian Vietnam veterans.32 This study also found an increase in AML among the children of Vietnam veterans, with a relative risk of 4.3. The risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) was not increased in this study.

The third study, a case-control study of 1,805 cases of ALL and 528 cases of AML, was also reported from the Children's Cancer Group.75 Although military service in general conferred no increased risk of childhood leukemia, service in Vietnam or Cambodia was associated with an odds ratio of 1.7 for AML (and no increased risk of ALL). Self-reported exposure to Agent Orange was not associated with increased risk.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer

Cancers of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon, and rectum have been extensively studied in Vietnam veterans, occupational groups with herbicide exposure, and people exposed to dioxins. These studies have yielded a fairly consistent pattern of no association between these exposures and any GI cancer.12 One case-control study in Hanoi suggested that former military service, presumably entailing Agent Orange exposure, was associated with increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, but the risk was far smaller than that associated with Hepatitis B infection.76

Brain Cancer

Similarly, there is a fairly consistent pattern suggesting no association between Vietnam service, occupational herbicide exposure, or dioxin exposure, and brain cancer.12

Other Cancers

Available evidence does not permit a conclusion regarding an association between Agent Orange exposure and other cancers, including cancers of the nose and nasopharynx, breast, cervix, uterine corpus, ovaries, liver and biliary tree, bone, kidneys, urinary bladder, testicles, or skin, or leukemia (in veterans themselves, as opposed to their offspring).12

Animal and Laboratory Studies

The chlorophenoxyacetic acid herbicides such as 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D are not considered highly toxic compounds, and high doses are required to cause adverse effects in animals. These compounds have not been associated with cancer in animal bioassays. In vitro laboratory cancer bioassays have also generally been negative, although 2,4-D induced mutations in one bioassay.12

Cacodylic acid is reported to cause lung and bladder tumors, to promote skin cancer in mice, and to be mutagenic in some laboratory tests.77 Picloram has caused increases in benign liver tumors and in thyroid adenomas in rats, but has not been mutagenic in vitro.78

2,3,7,8-TCDD is carcinogenic in animal tests, increasing in a wide variety of tumors in rats, mice, and hamsters. This action is thought to be mediated by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which triggers cellular signaling, DNA binding, and transcriptional activation. In vitro, TCDD does not seem to act as a direct genotoxin but has tumor-promoting activity instead.79

What Expert Agencies Say

Public Law 102-4, the “Agent Orange Act of 1991,” directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to request the National Academy of Sciences to review and evaluate the effects of Agent Orange exposure. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, responded by forming the Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. The Committee has issued a series of studies, beginning with its 1994 Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam. The IOM reports have assessed the risk of both cancer and noncancer health effects. Each health effect is categorized as having “sufficient evidence of an association,” “limited/suggestive evidence of an association,” “inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association exists,” or “limited/suggestive evidence of no association.” This framework provides a basis for policy decisions in the face of uncertainty.80 As of the most recent update,12 the associations between Agent Orange exposure and cancer were designated as shown in Table 1. (Note that other diseases, such as chloracne and diabetes, show evidence of an association, but this table shows only the cancers.)

Table TABLE 1. Associations Between Agent Orange Exposure and Cancer
Sufficient evidence of an association• Soft-tissue sarcoma
 • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
 • Hodgkin disease
 • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
  
Limited/suggestive evidence of an association• Respiratory cancers (lung, trachea/bronchus, larynx)
 • Prostate cancer
 • Multiple myeloma
  
Inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association exists• Hepatobiliary cancers
 • Nasal/nasopharyngeal cancer
 • Bone cancer
 • Breast cancer
 • Female reproductive cancers (cervical, uterine, ovarian)
 • Urinary bladder cancer
 • Renal cancer
 • Testicular cancer
 • Leukemia (other than CLL)
 • Skin cancers
 • Acute myelogenous leukemia in the children of veterans
  
Limited/suggestive evidence of no association• Gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum)
 • Brain tumors

The National Toxicology Program evaluates exposures that may be carcinogenic. Exposures that are thought to be carcinogenic are included in the Reports on Carcinogens, published every two years. Each exposure is assigned to one of two categories: “known to be human carcinogens,” and “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” The first category includes substances for which human studies (epidemiology studies and/or experimental studies) provide “sufficient evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans. The second category includes substances for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and/or sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. The National Toxicology Program has not listed the chlorophenoxy herbicides, including Agent Orange, as carcinogens, but 2,3,7,8-TCDD is classified as “known to be a human carcinogen.”81

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also evaluates exposures that may be carcinogenic. IARC classifies exposures in one of four categories: Group 1 exposures are those “known to be carcinogenic to humans,” usually based on “sufficient” human evidence, but sometimes based on “sufficient” evidence in experimental animals and “strong” human evidence. Group 2 exposures are divided into two categories. Group 2A (“probably carcinogenic to humans”) has stronger evidence, and Group 2B (“possibly carcinogenic to humans”) has weaker evidence. Group 3 exposures are not considered classifiable, because available evidence is limited or inadequate. Finally, Group 4 exposures are “probably not carcinogenic to humans” based on evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals. IARC has not rated Agent Orange per se, but the chlorophenoxy herbicides, including 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, are categorized as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B),82 and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin is categorized as “known to be carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1).79

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Integrated Risk Information System, uses a classification scheme very similar to that of IARC. It classifies exposures into one of five categories: (1) human carcinogen, (2) probable human carcinogen, (3) possible human carcinogen, (4) not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity, and (5) evidence of noncarcinogenicity for humans. EPA has not classified either phenoxyacetic acids or TCDD as to carcinogenicity.

ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

Vietnam service and Agent Orange exposure in particular have been extensively studied in relation to health problems other than cancer. High levels of dioxin exposure are associated with chloracne, a distinctive form of acne. Dioxin exposures are also associated with porphyria cutanea tarda, although this disorder has not been found in excess in Vietnam veterans. For other health effects, the evidence is more variable.12

There has been considerable concern about reproductive effects, such as birth defects in the children of exposed veterans. Some data are suggestive, especially with regard to neural tube defects, but this is an area that continues to be marked by great uncertainty. There has also been concern about neurotoxicity, including neuropsychiatric dysfunction, deficits in motor function, and peripheral neuropathy. Again, considerable uncertainty exists about these associations. Although the immune system is a target of dioxin, available evidence to date has not demonstrated an increase in immune disorders in veterans. Some evidence exists of an association between Agent Orange exposure and diabetes.10 For other disorders—asthma, GI disease, circulatory disorders, and others—there is little definitive evidence of an association with Agent Orange.

ADVISING PATIENTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

A Vietnam veteran with Agent Orange exposure may be eligible for three kinds of benefits.83 Clinicians who are familiar with these benefits can counsel their patients who are veterans accordingly.

The first benefit is the Agent Orange Registry, a health examination program administered by the VA since 1978. Veterans who participate in this program receive medical examinations, basic laboratory evaluations, and specialty referrals if appropriate.

The second benefit is disability compensation payments. Such payments are available to veterans with service-related illnesses or illnesses that were incurred or aggravated by military service. The amount of the payments is determined by the extent of disability. Because past Agent Orange exposure is difficult to quantify, the VA uses a presumption-based system. If a veteran served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and becomes disabled with one of the conditions designated as Agent Orange-related, the VA classifies his or her disability as service-related. The diseases considered related to Agent Orange exposure correspond closely to the conditions found by the IOM to have “sufficient” or “limited/suggestive” evidence of an association. The cancers on the list include Hodgkin disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate cancer, cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea occurring within 30 years of exposure to Agent Orange, soft tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi sarcoma, or mesothelioma), and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The rationale for the 30-year limit on compensability for respiratory cancers is not clear. (Conditions other than cancer, such as diabetes, are also on this list.)

Third, some veterans qualify for medical care following Agent Orange exposure. According to the Veterans' Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, Public Law 104-262, the VA must provide its Medical Benefits Package—including outpatient and inpatient medical care at VA facilities, prescription medications, and home health and hospice care—to veterans with disorders associated with herbicide exposure in Vietnam (to the extent that Congress appropriates funds to provide this care). These disorders include the cancers presumed to be Agent Orange-related, as well as any other disorder that a VA physician determines is possibly associated with Agent Orange exposure during service in Vietnam. Under this law, two categories of disability are excluded from care: a disability that the VA determines did not result from Agent Orange exposures (such as appendicitis or an injury from an automobile crash) or a disease that the National Academy of Sciences classifies as having limited/suggestive evidence of no association with Agent Orange (GI tumors and brain tumors).

Veterans may be referred to the VA Web site (http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide/) or to their local VA hospitals for further information on any of these Agent Orange-related benefits.

Clinicians can also provide clinical advice and careful routine medical care to patients with a history of Agent Orange exposure. Because of the possibility of excess cancer risk, patients should be advised to seek recommended cancer screening tests and should promptly seek medical evaluation of suspicious symptoms. Patients should also be advised to quit smoking, to avoid exposures to other carcinogens, to eat a diet primarily from plant sources, and to maintain a healthy body weight.

A veteran concerned about past occupational exposure to Agent Orange may want to join a support group at the local VA hospital and/or consult an occupational and environmental medicine clinic. These clinics can help assess past exposures and any risk that may persist and recommend appropriate steps to health protection. They may be located through the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics at www.aoec.org.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References

For medical information, the definitive source is the series of IOM reports, Veterans and Agent Orange. These can be found at the National Academies Press Web site. The most recent update is available at: http://bob.nap.edu/books/0309086167/html/.

Several web sites are devoted to Agent Orange, including both government sites and private sites. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a site at http://www.va.gov/agentorange/ in addition to the benefits site noted above. A useful brochure found there is “Agent Orange: Information for Veterans Who Served in Vietnam.” (see http://www.va.gov/agentorange/docs/IDAO_Brochure.PDF). The New Jersey Agent Orange Commission is at http://njaoc.org/. A private publishing company, Lewis Publishing, maintains a Web site at http://www.lewispublishing.com/orange.htm.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. BACKGROUND
  5. AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE
  6. ASSOCIATION OF AGENT ORANGE AND CANCER
  7. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS
  8. ADVISING PATIENTS
  9. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
  10. References
  • 1
    Booker SM. Dioxin in Vietnam: fighting a legacy of war. Environ Health Persp 2001; 109: A116117.
  • 2
    Kahn PC, Gochfeld M, Nguyen M, et al. Dioxins and dibenzofurans in blood and adipose tissue of Agent Orange-exposed Vietnam veterans and matched controls. JAMA 1988; 259: 16611667.
  • 3
    Schecter A, McGee H, Stanley JS, et al. Dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals in blood and semen of American Vietnam veterans from the state of Michigan. Am J Ind Med 1996; 30: 647654.
  • 4
    Kang HK, Dalager NA, Needham LL, et al. US army chemical corps Vietnam veteran's health study: preliminary results. Chemosphere 2001; 43: 943949.
  • 5
    Courtney KD, Gaylor DW, Hogan MD, et al. Teratogenic evaluation of 2, 4, 5-T. Science 1970; 168: 864866.
  • 6
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam. Washington: National Academy Press, 1994. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309048877/html/index.html.
  • 7
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996. Washington: National Academy Press, 1996. Available at: http://books.nap.edu/books/N1000877/html/index.html.
  • 8
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1998. Washington: National Academy Press, 1999. Available at: http://search.nap.edu/books/0309063264/html.
  • 9
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2000. Washington: National Academy Press, 2000. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309075521/html.
  • 10
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Type 2 Diabetes. Washington: National Academy Press, 2000. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309071984/html.
  • 11
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia in the Children of Vietnam Veterans. Washington: National Academy Press, 2002. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309083389/html.
  • 12
    Institute of Medicine, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides. Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2002. Washington: National Academy Press, 2003. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/books/0309086167/html.
  • 13
    Centers for Disease Control. Postservice mortality among Vietnam veterans: Centers for Disease Control Vietnam Experience Study. JAMA 1987; 257: 790795.
  • 14
    Centers for Disease Control. The association of selected cancers with service in the US military in Vietnam. I. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Selected Cancers Cooperative Study Group. Arch Intern Med 1990; 150: 24732483.
  • 15
    Centers for Disease Control. The association of selected cancers with service in the US military in Vietnam. II. Soft-tissue and other sarcomas. The Selected Cancers Cooperative Study Group. Arch Intern Med 1990; 150: 24852492.
  • 16
    Centers for Disease Control. The association of selected cancers with service in the US military in Vietnam. III. Hodgkin disease, nasal cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, and primary liver cancer. The Selected Cancers Cooperative Study Group. Arch Intern Med 1990; 150: 24952505.
  • 17
    Watanabe KK, Kang HK, Thomas TL. Mortality among Vietnam veterans: with methodological considerations. J Occup Med 1991; 33: 780785.
  • 18
    Watanabe KK, Kang HK. Military service in Vietnam and the risk of death from trauma and selected cancers. Ann Epidemiol 1995; 5: 407412.
  • 19
    Watanabe KK, Kang HK. Mortality patterns among Vietnam veterans: A 24-year retrospective analysis. J Occup Environ Med 1996; 38: 272278.
  • 20
    Kang HK, Enzinger FM, Breslin P, et al. Soft tissue sarcoma and military service in Vietnam: a case-control study. [Published erratum appears in J Natl Cancer Inst 1987;79:1173]. J Natl Cancer Inst 1987; 79: 693699.
  • 21
    Thomas TL, Kang HK. Mortality and morbidity among Army Chemical Corps Vietnam veterans: a preliminary report. Am J Ind Med 1990; 18: 665673.
  • 22
    Dalager NA, Kang HK. Mortality among Army Chemical Corps Vietnam veterans. Am J Ind Med 1997; 31: 719726.
  • 23
    Wolfe WH, Michalek JE, Miner JC, et al. Health status of Air Force veterans occupationally exposed to herbicides. JAMA 1990; 264: 18241831.
  • 24
    Ketchum NS, Michalek JE, Burton JE. Serum dioxin and cancer in veterans of Operation Ranch Hand. Am J Epidemiol 1999; 149: 630639.
  • 25
    Michalek JE, Ketchum NS, Akhtar FZ. Postservice mortality of US Air Force veterans occupationally exposed to herbicides in Vietnam: 15-year follow-up. Am J Epidemiol 1998; 148: 786792.
  • 26
    Lawrence CE, Reilly AA, Quickenton P, et al. Mortality patterns of New York State Vietnam veterans. Am J Public Health 1985; 75: 277279.
  • 27
    Clapp RW, Cupples LA, Colton T, et al. Cancer surveillance of veterans in Massachusetts, 1982–1988. Int J Epidemiol 1991; 20: 712.
  • 28
    Anderson HA, Hanrahan LP, Jensen M, et al. Wisconsin Vietnam Veteran Mortality Study: Final Report. State of Wisconsin, Department of Health and Human Services; 1986
  • 29
    Visintainer PF, Barone M, McGee H, et al. Proportionate mortality study of Vietnam-era veterans of Michigan. J Occup Environ Med 1995; 37: 423428.
  • 30
    Fett MJ, Nairn JR, Cobbin DM, et al. Mortality among Australian conscripts of the Vietnam conflict era. II. Causes of death. Am J Epidemiol 1987; 125: 878884.
  • 31
    Forcier L, Hudson HM, Cobbin DM, et al. Mortality of Australian veterans of the Vietnam conflict and the period and location of their Vietnam service. Mil Med 1987; 152: 117124.
  • 32
    Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs. Morbidity of Vietnam Veterans: A Study of the Health of Australia's Vietnam Veteran Community. Volume 1: Male Vietnam Veterans Survey and Community Comparison Outcomes. Canberra: Department of Veterans' Affairs; 1998.
  • 33
    AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). Morbidity of Vietnam Veterans: A Study of the Health of Australia's Vietnam Veteran Community. Volume 3: Validation Study. Canberra, 1999.
  • 34
    Schecter AJ, Dai LC, Thuy LTB, et al. Agent Orange and the Vietnamese: The persistence of elevated dioxin levels in human tissues. Am J Public Health 1995; 85: 516622.
  • 35
    Schecter A, Dai LC, Päpke O, et al. Recent dioxin contamination from Agent Orange in residents of a southern Vietnam city. J Occup Environ Med 2001; 43: 435443.
  • 36
    Schecter A, Pavuk M, Constable JD, et al. A follow-up: high level of dioxin contamination in Vietnamese from agent orange, three decades after the end of spraying [Letter]. J Occup Environ Med 2002; 44: 218220.
  • 37
    Kramarova E, Kogevinas M, Anh CT, et al. Exposure to Agent Orange and occurrence of soft-tissue sarcomas or non-Hodgkin lymphomas: An ongoing study in Vietnam. Environ Health Persp 1998; 106 (Suppl 2):671678.
  • 38
    Dwernychuk LW, Cau HD, Hatfield CT, et al. Dioxin reservoirs in southern Viet Nam—a legacy of Agent Orange. Chemosphere 2002; 47: 117137.
  • 39
    Saracci R, Kogevinas M, Bertazzi PA, et al. Cancer mortality in workers exposed to chlorophenoxy herbicides and chlorophenols. Lancet 1991; 338( 8774):10271032.
  • 40
    Lynge E. Cancer in phenoxy herbicide manufacturing workers in Denmark, 1947–87: an update. Cancer Causes Control 1993; 4: 261272.
  • 41
    Kogevinas M, Kauppinen T, Winkelmann R, et al. Soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in workers exposed to phenoxy herbicides, chlorophenols, and dioxins: two nested case-control studies. Epidemiology 1995; 6: 396402.
  • 42
    Kogevinas M, Becher H, Benn T, et al. Cancer mortality in workers exposed to phenoxy herbicides, chlorophenols, and dioxins. An expanded and updated international cohort study. Am J Epidemiol 1997; 145: 10611075.
  • 43
    Burns CJ, Beard KK, Cartmill JB. Mortality in chemical workers potentially exposed to 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2, 4-D) 1945–94: an update. Occup Environ Med 2001; 58: 2430.
  • 44
    Asp S, Riihimaki V, Hernberg S, et al. Mortality and cancer morbidity of Finnish chlorophenoxy herbicide applicators: An 18-year prospective follow-up. Am J Ind Med 1994; 26: 243253.
  • 45
    Blair A, Dosemeci M, Heineman EF. Cancer and other causes of death among male and female farmers from 23 states. Am J Ind Med 1993; 23: 729742.
  • 46
    Thörn A, Gustavsson P, Sadigh J, et al. Mortality and cancer incidence among Swedish lumberjacks exposed to phenoxy herbicides. Occup Environ Med 2000; 57: 718720.
  • 47
    Alavanja MC, Blair A, Merkle S, et al. Mortality among forest and soil conservationists. Arch Environ Health 1989; 44: 94101.
  • 48
    Ott MG, Zober A. Cause specific mortality and cancer incidence among employees exposed to 2, 3, 7, 8-TCDD after a 1953 reactor accident. Occup Environ Med 1996; 53: 606612.
  • 49
    Zober A, Messerer P, Ott MG. BASF studies: epidemiological and clinical investigations on dioxin-exposed chemical workers. Teratog Carcinog Mutagen 1997–98 : 17: 249256.
  • 50
    Bertazzi PA, Consonni D, Bachetti S, et al. Health effects of dioxin exposure: a 20-year mortality study. Am J Epidemiol 2001; 153: 10311044.
  • 51
    Collins JJ, Strauss ME, Levinskas GJ, et al. The mortality experience of workers exposed to 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin in a trichlorophenol process accident. Epidemiology 1993; 4: 713.
  • 52
    Ott MG, Olson RA, Cook RR, et al. Cohort mortality study of chemical workers with potential exposure to the higher chlorinated dioxins. J Occup Med 1987; 29: 422429.
  • 53
    Fingerhut MA, Halperin WE, Marlow DA, et al. Cancer mortality in workers exposed to 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. N Engl J Med 1991; 324: 212218.
  • 54
    Steenland K, Piacitelli L, Deddens J, et al. Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes in workers exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. JNCI 1999; 91: 779786.
  • 55
    Revich B, Aksel E, Ushakova T, et al. Dioxin exposure and public health in Chapaevsk, Russia. Chemosphere 2001; 43: 951966.
  • 56
    Kang HK, Weatherbee L, Breslin PP, et al. Soft tissue sarcomas and military service in Vietnam: a case comparison group analysis of hospital patients. J Occup Med 1986; 28: 12151218.
  • 57
    Hardell L, Eriksson M. The association between soft tissue sarcomas and exposure to phenoxyacetic acids: a new case-referent study. Cancer 1988; 62: 652666.
  • 58
    Eriksson M, Hardell L, Adami HO. Exposure to dioxins as a risk factor for soft tissue sarcoma: a population-based case-control study. JNCI 1990; 82: 486490.
  • 59
    Rix BA, Villadsen E, Engholm G, Lynge E. Hodgkin disease, pharyngeal cancer, and soft tissue sarcomas in Danish paper mill workers. J Occup Environ Med 1998; 40: 5562.
  • 60
    Viel JF, Arveux P, Baverel J, et al. Soft-tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma clusters around a municipal solid waste incinerator with high dioxin emission levels. Am J Epidemiol 2000; 152: 1319.
  • 61
    O'Brien TR, Decoufle P, Boyle CA. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a cohort of Vietnam veterans. Am J Public Health 1991; 81: 758760.
  • 62
    Michalak JE, Burnham BR, Marden HE, et al. Air Force Health Study: Final Report. An Epidemiologic Investigation of Health Effects in Air Force Personnel Following Exposure to Herbicides. United States Air Force and Science Applications International Corporation. February 22, 2000. Available at: http://www.brooks.af.mil/AFRL/HED/hedb/afhs/97report.html.
  • 63
    Dalager NA, Kang HK, Burt VL, et al. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among Vietnam veterans. J Occup Med 1991; 33: 774779.
  • 64
    Hardell L, Eriksson M, Lenner P, et al. Malignant lymphoma and exposure to chemicals, especially organic solvents, chlorophenols and phenoxy acids: a case-control study. Br J Cancer 1981; 43: 169176.
  • 65
    Persson B, Dahlander AM, Fredriksson M, et al. Malignant lymphomas and occupational exposures. Br J Ind Med 1989; 46: 516520.
  • 66
    Persson B, Fredriksson M, Olsen K, et al. Some occupational exposures as risk factors for malignant lymphomas. Cancer 1993; 72: 17731778.
  • 67
    Persson B, Fredrikson M. Some risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Int J Occup Med Environ Health 1999; 12: 135142.
  • 68
    Dalager NA, Kang HK, Burt VL, et al. Hodgkin disease and Vietnam service. Ann Epidemiol 1995; 5: 400406.
  • 69
    Hardell L, Bengtsson NO. Epidemiological study of socioeconomic factors and clinical findings in Hodgkin disease, and reanalysis of previous data regarding chemical exposure. Br J Cancer 1983; 48: 217225.
  • 70
    Mahan CM, Bullman TA, Kang HK, et al. A case-control study of lung cancer among Vietnam veterans. J Occup Environ Med 1997; 39: 740747.
  • 71
    Fleming LE, Bean JA, Rudolph M, et al. Cancer incidence in a cohort of licensed pesticide applicators in Florida. J Occup Environ Med 1999; 41: 279288.
  • 72
    Fleming LE, Bean JA, Rudolph M, et al. Mortality in a cohort of licensed pesticide applicators in Florida. Occup Environ Med 1999; 56: 1421.
  • 73
    Khuder SA, Mutgi AB. Meta-analyses of multiple myeloma and farming. Am J Ind Med 1997; 32: 510516.
  • 74
    Buckley JD, Robison LL, Swotinsky R, et al. Occupational exposures of parents of children with acute nonlymphocytic leukemia: a report from the Childrens Cancer Study Group. Cancer Res 1989; 49: 40304037.
  • 75
    Wen WQ, Shu XO, Steinbuch M, et al. Paternal military service and risk for childhood leukemia in offspring. Am J Epidemiol 2000; 151: 231240.
  • 76
    Cordier S, Le TB, Verger P, et al. Viral infections and chemical exposures as risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma in Vietnam. Int J Cancer 1993; 55: 196201.
  • 77
    US Environmental Protection Agency. Integrated Risk Information System, Cacodylic acid (CASRN 75–60-5). Updated 1996. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0587.htm.
  • 78
    International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 53. Occupational Exposures in Insecticide Application and Some Pesticides; 1991
  • 79
    International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 69. Polychlorinated Dibenzo-para-Dioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans; 1997
  • 80
    Tickner JA. Developing scientific and policy methods that support precautionary action in the face of uncertainty: The Institute of Medicine Committee on Agent Orange. Public Health Rep 2002; 117: 534545.
  • 81
    National Toxicology Program. Tenth Annual Report on Carcinogens; 2000
  • 82
    International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Supplement 7. Overall Evaluations of Carcinogenicity: An Updating of IARC Monographs Volumes 1 to 42. 1987
  • 83
    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Initiative. Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure. Independent Study Course. Washington: Department of Veterans Affairs; March 2002. Available at: http://www.va.gov/agentorange/docs/VHIagentorange.pdf.