Lead author Dr. Mark W. Clemens of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and colleagues said the study adds to previous evidence risk of non-melanotic invasive skin cancer could increase even four decades after Agent Orange exposure, with at least some exposed veterans having unusually aggressive non-melanoma skin cancers.
During the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was widely used as a herbicide to remove jungle vegetation. It has been linked to a wide range of cancers and other diseases, caused by the toxic dioxin contaminant TCDD.
"TCDD is among the most carcinogenic compounds ever to undergo widespread use in the environment," Clemens and co-authors said in a statement.
Veterans Affairs recognizes and provides benefits for certain cancers and health problems associated with prior dioxin exposure during military service, but skin cancer is currently not one of them, Clemens said.
The researchers analyzed medical records of 100 consecutive men who enrolled in the Agent Orange registry at the Veterans Affairs Hospital of Washington, from August 2009 to January 2010.
Exposure to TCDD consisted of living or working in contaminated areas for 56 percent of veterans, actively spraying Agent Orange in 30 percent and traveling in contaminated areas for 14 percent. The study was limited to men with lighter skin types.
The study, scheduled to be published in the February issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, found the rate of non-melanotic invasive skin cancer in TCDD-exposed veterans was 51 percent -- about twice as high as the rate expected in men of similar age group.
The risk of skin cancer increased to 73 percent for veterans who actively sprayed Agent Orange. Exposed men with the lightest skin types and those with lighter eyes were also at higher risk, the study said.
In addition, 43 percent of the veterans had chloracne, a skin condition specifically caused by exposure to dioxins and for this group the rate of non-melanotic invasive skin cancer was more than 80 percent.