Agent Oranges Possible Link to Rare Cancer Type Sparks Advocacy Efforts

BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED July 18, 2017
Exposure to Agent Orange — a toxic chemical combination used for deforestation during the Vietnam War — may be the cause of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) for hundreds of war veterans, according to MPN Advocacy and Education International.

“There was evidence very early that its use to exfoliate the jungle in Vietnam and other parts of the territory was having a grave impact on the health and safety of those exposed, including civilians,” Ann Brazeau, CEO of MPN Advocacy Network and Education International said in an interview with CURE.

Currently, MPNs are not on the Veterans Health Administration’s presumptive list, which means that veterans with MPNs such as essential thrombocytopenia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis do not get disability benefits from the VA because it does not see those conditions as a direct result of their wartime service. Brazeau and her team are working to add MPNs to this list to help people like Barry Halem, of the Tampa Bay area — one of more than 500 veterans who contacted MPN Advocacy and Education International after developing an MPN.

“That’s too many for me to believe that it’s all a coincidence,” Halem said in an interview with CURE, referring to the known number of Vietnam veterans with MPNs. “The only thing we have in common is service in Vietnam.”

After coming home from Vietnam, where he worked on petroleum pipelines and storage tanks, Halem remained very active, running almost every day. Being in such good shape, he was surprised when he had a heart attack. Everything in his bloodwork looked fine except for a high platelet count. After seeing a hematology specialist 17 years ago, Halem received his diagnosis: ET.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has linked exposure to Agent Orange, which included the endocrine disrupter dioxin, to a number of cancers. They are: chronic B-cell leukemias, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers (including lung cancer) and soft tissue sarcoma.

Since his diagnosis, Halem has teamed up with MPN Advocacy and Education International in an effort to get MPNs added to the VA’s presumptive list. The organization’s efforts are ongoing and will include an event this Nov. 10 for Veteran’s Day, during which top professionals in the field — including Raajit Rampal, M.D., Ph.D., a hematologic oncologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who is studying the possible correlatioin between Agent Orange and MPNs — will speak to veterans.

“We believe that it is not only essential to add MPNs to the VA’s presumptive list, but also to continue to research the link to Agent Orange/dioxin and improve the dialogue in the medical and health care community regarding chemical exposure and health issues,” Brazeau said. “The chemicals that made up the compound A/O-dioxin were referred to as the most toxic man-made chemicals produced.”
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