Vietnam Vets, Agent Orange and Prostate Cancer

Aggressive prostate cancer linked to Agent Orange exposure in US Veterans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Agent Orange was used during the Vietnam War to kill dense vegetation. The chemical created better views of what was going on on the ground. Agent Orange sometimes had dioxin in it – a powerful toxin that may cause cancer.

Men exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are at higher risk of developing a deadly form of prostate cancer, according to a newly published study.

US Vietnam veterans will want to consider this risk factor as they are deciding whether or not to be screened for prostate cancer.

"Talk to your doctor if you’ve been exposed to dangerous chemicals."

The authors noted that previous research has linked Agent Orange with a number of cancers including soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Evidence has suggested an association between the herbicide and respiratory cancers, prostate cancers and multiple myeloma.

About 8 million men served during the Vietnam War, including 3 million who were in Southeast Asia where Agent Orange was used.

Nathan Ansbaugh, MPH, of the Oregon Health and Science University Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology in Portland, Oregon, and colleagues designed and conducted the study to examine the link between Agent Orange and life-threatening (high-grade) prostate cancer.

Researchers analyzed initial prostate biopsy results of 2,720 US Veterans. Mark Garzotto, MD, of the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University compiled data from this analysis.

“This is an important distinction as the majority of prostate cancer cases are non-lethal and thus do not necessarily require detection or therapy. Having a means of specifically detecting life-threatening cancer would improve the effectiveness of screening and treatment of prostate cancer,” Dr. Garzotto said in a news release.

About 900 men – 33 percent – of the men in the study developed prostate cancer, with 17 percent of those veterans being diagnosed with life-threatening disease.

The researchers reported that Agent Orange exposure was associated with a overall 52 percent increased risk of biopsy-detected prostate cancer.

The herbicide was associated with a 75 percent greater risk of high-grade prostate cancer, but did not increase the risk of low-grade disease.

Agent Orange exposure was linked to a two-fold increase for the most lethal forms of prostate cancer.

"We have known for over a decade that there is an association with Agent Orange exposure and prostate cancer,” E. David Crawford, MD, professor of surgery, urology and radiation oncology, and head of the Section of Urologic Oncology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, told dailyRx News.

“The findings from this retrospective review is of great import. The recent recommendations of not screening most men do not apply here, and the VA [Veterans Administration] must take a leadership role in promoting early diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Crawford said.

He added, “With the recent approval of new predictive markers such as Oncotype DX GPS and Polaris score, better directed therapy can be utilized. And finally, The VAMC [Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center] needs to study why this occurs, since it may give clues as to why some men progress and die of prostate cancer."

Findings from this study were published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

This research was supported with resources and the use of facilities at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 11, 2013
Last Updated:
September 19, 2013