Agent Orange-Related Non-Melanotic Skin Cancer Still Affects Veterans

by U.S. Medicine

December 8, 2014

HOUSTON – Decades later, exposure to Agent Orange puts Vietnam War veterans at high risk for certain types of skin cancer.

That’s according to a report published earlier this year in Find Your Surgeon

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). The study, led by researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, adds to previous evidence that risk of nonmelanotic invasive skin cancer (NMISC) is increased even four decades after Agent Orange exposure, with at least some exposed veterans having unusually aggressive nonmelanoma skin cancers.1

Agent Orange, widely used during the Vietnam War as a herbicide and jungle defoliant, has been linked to a wide range of cancers and other diseases caused by the highly toxic dioxin contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD). “:TCDD is among the most carcinogenic compounds ever to undergo widespread use in the environment,” study authors wrote.

For the study limited to men with lighter skin types, researchers analyzed medical records of 100 consecutive men who enrolled in the Agent Orange registry at the Washington, DC, VAMC between August 2009 and January 2010. More than half of the veterans, 56%, were exposed to TCDD by living or working in contaminated areas, another 30% were exposed by actively spraying the compound, and 14% traveled in contaminated areas.

Results indicated that the rate of NMISC in TCDD-exposed veterans was 51%, about twice as high as the rate expected in men of similar age group, with the highest risk for exposed men with the lightest skin types and light eyes. The risk of skin cancer increased to 73% for veterans who actively sprayed Agent Orange.

For the 43% of veterans who had chloracne, a skin condition specifically caused by exposure to dioxins, the NMISC rate was more than 80%, according to the study.

“Further studies are warranted to determine the relative risk within this patient population and to determine appropriate management strategies,” the authors concluded.

1 1 Clemens MW, Kochuba AL, Carter ME, Han K, Liu J, Evans K. Association between Agent Orange exposure and nonmelanotic invasive skin cancer: a pilot study. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 Feb;133(2):432-7. doi: 10.1097/ PubMed PMID: 24469173.

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