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Vietnam War Chemical, Agent Orange, Linked to High-Grade Prostate Cancer

Update Date: May 13, 2013 01:33 PM EDT

A new research study looked into the damaging effects of Agent Orange on United States Veterans. Agent orange, which was named after the orange drums that the chemical was stored in, is an herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War era. The herbicide, which contained dioxin, a chemical linked to being a carcinogen, was used to destroy the foliage in Vietnam by spraying the dangerous content all over the environment. Although this agent has been researched before for its link to causing prostate cancer, this new study discovered that the chemical might be tied to a more lethal type of prostate cancer.

The study, headed by Dr. Mark Garzotto from the Portland Veterans Administration Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University, recruited 2,720 veterans of the Vietnam War. One in every 13 veterans was exposed to the deadly chemical. After a prostate biopsy was done in Portland, VA, Garzotto and his colleagues reported that 33 percent of the veterans had prostate cancer. 17 percent of the individuals developed a high-grade version of the disease. The team found that mere exposure to the chemical increased one's chances of developing prostate cancer by 52 percent. The chances of developing a high-grade and lethal version of the cancer increased to 75 percent. The researchers also noted that men who were assigned in the areas where Agent Orange was used more frequently appeared to develop prostate cancer on an average of five years earlier than other men.

The chemical did not only afflict U.S. veterans. The Vietnam Red Cross Society estimated that nearly one million Vietnamese people suffered from health complications, such as birth defects, from Agent Orange. Based from these findings, the researchers believe that veterans who were exposed should get tested for prostate cancer with the hopes of detecting the disease earlier, making it easier to treat.

"This is a very, very strong predictor of lethal cancer," said Garzotto. "If you're a person who's otherwise healthy and you've been exposed to Agent Orange, that has important implications for whether you should be screened or not screened."

Garzotto added, "It also should raise awareness about potential harms of chemical contaminants in biologic agents used in warfare and the risks associated with waste handling and other chemical processes that generate dioxin or dioxin-related compounds."

According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, roughly 239,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.

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