24 January 2003
Orange And a Cancer Are Linked, a Study Shows
By CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS
Jan. 23 — Exposure to high levels of Agent Orange, the widely
used defoliant in the Vietnam War, is associated with a slight increase
in the incidence of a form of leukemia, researchers have determined.
report from the
Institute of Medicine has found that veterans exposed to Agent
Orange three decades ago were at greater risk for chronic lymphocytic
leukemia, a fast-moving and deadly cancer. As a result of the study,
the Veterans Affairs Department announced today that it would extend
benefits to veterans with the disease.
a terrible tragedy to contract this disease," Veterans Affairs
Secretary Anthony J. Principi said. "We are taking steps to
ensure that veterans are receiving the benefits they need."
finding is the latest link between battlefield exposure to chemicals
and clusters of disease among veterans. Agent Orange, which American
forces sprayed from planes to clear Vietcong jungle havens in South
Vietnam and parts of Cambodia, has been associated with other cancers,
diabetes and birth defects. About 10,000 veterans receive disability
benefits because of their exposure to dioxin in Agent Orange or
2001, Mr. Principi extended benefits to veterans of the Persian
Gulf war who suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's
disease, after studies found them to be nearly twice as likely to
contract the disease as other troops.
have come to learn that environmental hazards of the battlefield
can prove to be as disabling or deadly as the more traditional form
of combat," he said in an interview.
now, the relationship between Agent Orange and chronic lymphocytic
leukemia, or CLL, has been murky. Although the disease is the most
common form of leukemia, it is still considered rare. About 7,000
cases were diagnosed last year in the United States, presenting
researchers with a small sample from which to draw conclusions.
panel at the Institute of Medicine, which Congress finances as part
of the National Academy of Sciences, took a different tack when
researchers noted that lymphocytic leukemia, although classified
as leukemia, shared many traits with Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma, both of which had been linked to herbicide exposure.
similarities between CLL and lymphomas, which we have long known
to be associated with exposure to the types of chemicals used in
Agent Orange and other defoliants, began to raise questions about
whether CLL should be considered separately from other forms of
leukemia," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of epidemiology
who was chairwoman of the panel. "The data are sufficient to
support a link between herbicide exposure and this type of cancer."
Principi said the incidents of the cancer among veterans were relatively
few, though he estimated that his department would hear from as
many as 1,000 new patients a year. Because of the findings, veterans
will not have to prove that their illnesses stemmed from Agent Orange
exposure. Evidence of military service and a physician's diagnosis
will be sufficient, the secretary said.
on the severity of the disability, veterans will be entitled to
up to $2,300 a month, officials said.