Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange face higher risks for certain types of skin cancer, new research finds.
Medical experts with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that vets are twice as likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancer four decades after their exposure to the toxic herbicide than men of similar ages.
The findings, published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, add to the list of health problems tied to Agent Orange — an herbicide containing the dioxin contaminant TCDD that was widely used as a jungle defoliant during the war.
"TCDD is among the most carcinogenic compounds ever to undergo widespread use in the environment," noted lead researcher Mark W. Clemens, M.D.
Veterans Affairs officials provide benefits for a wide variety of cancers and health problems presumed to be associated with dioxin exposure during military service, but skin cancer is currently not one of them.
For the new study, researchers analyzed medical records of 100 men who enrolled in the Agent Orange registry at the Veterans Affairs Hospital of Washington, D.C., between August 2009 and January 2010. Exposure to TCDD included living or working in contaminated areas for 56 percent of veterans, actively spraying Agent Orange in 30 percent, and traveling in contaminated areas for 14 percent.
The rate of skin cancer in TCDD-exposed veterans was 51 percent — about twice the rate expected in the general population. The risk of skin cancer increased to 73 percent for veterans who actively sprayed Agent Orange. Men with the lightest skin types and those with lighter eyes were also at higher risk.
"Further studies are warranted to determine the relative risk within this patient population and to determine appropriate management strategies so that veterans may receive the care they earned in service," Dr. Clemens said.
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