Agent Orange Exposure During Vietnam War Related to Heightened Bladder Cancer Risk

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed a tactical herbicide called Agent Orange to defoliate forest areas. The goal was not only to destroy crops that could provide nourishment to enemy forces, but to reveal where these forces might be hiding. The Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, shares that Agent Orange:

contained a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin [that has been] linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities. Agent Orange was sprayed at up to 20 times the concentration that manufacturers recommended for killing plants, [defoliating] millions of acres of forests and farmland…[that] remain degraded and unproductive to this day.

Millions of Vietnamese citizens, and Americans who fought in the Vietnam War, are still affected by Agent Orange, despite the fact that the use of Agent Orange was banned in 1971. A recent study sought to understand whether any relationship exists between Agent Orange exposure and bladder cancer risk. In Cancer Therapy Advisor, Dr. Andrea S. Blevins Primeau states that the research team explored this link by evaluating data from 2,517,926 men within the Veterans Affairs Health System over an 18-year period.

The Continuing Impact of Agent Orange

Within the findings, published in JAMA Network Open, the research team found that there was a slight increase in bladder cancer risk in veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange vs. those who had not (2.1% vs. 2.0%). While the risk was present for both older and younger veterans, no correlation existed between increased risk and older age. Agent Orange raised the risk of bladder cancer, but did not increase its aggressiveness. In fact, the study found that Agent Orange exposure correlated with a slighter lower risk of having muscle-invasive cancer.

About Bladder Cancer

As its name suggests, bladder cancer begins in the cells of the bladder. There are multiple forms of bladder cancer depending on where the cancer manifested. The first and most common form is urothelial carcinoma, which begins in transitional cells on the inner bladder lining; this accounts for around 90% of all cases. Additional forms include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, sarcoma, and small cell carcinoma of the bladder. The latter two are the rarest forms. People who are male, white, older in age, smokers, or have chronic bladder irritation or infections are at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. While this cancer is treatable, about 75% of early-stage bladder cancers recur.

Symptoms may, but do not always, include:

  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • Painful urination
  • Having difficulty urinating
  • Lower back pain on one side of the body
  • Frequent urination
  • Persistent bladder infections
  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite loss
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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