Agent Orange exposure, Vietnam War veterans, and the risk of prostate cancer

Karim Chamie, Ralph W deVere White, Dennis Lee, Joon Ha Ok, Lars M. Ellison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND. It has been demonstrated that Agent Orange exposure increases the risk of developing several soft tissue malignancies. Federally funded studies, now nearly a decade old, indicated that there was only a weak association between exposure and the subsequent development of prostate cancer. Because Vietnam War veterans are now entering their 60s, the authors reexamined this association by measuring the relative risk of prostate cancer among a cohort of men who were stratified as either exposed or unexposed to Agent Orange between the years 1962 and 1971 and who were followed during the interval between 1998 and 2006. METHODS. All Vietnam War era veterans who receive their care in the Northern California Veteran Affairs Health System were stratified as either exposed (n = 6214) or unexposed (n = 6930) to Agent Orange. Strata-specific incidence rates of prostate cancer (International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision code 185.0) were calculated. Differences in patient and disease characteristics (age, race, smoking history, family history, body mass index, finasteride exposure, prebiopsy prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, clinical and pathologic stage, and Gleason score) were assessed with chi-square tests, t tests, a Cox proportional hazards model, and multivariate logistic regression. RESULTS. Twice as many exposed men were identified with prostate cancer (239 vs 124 unexposed men, respectively; odds ratio [OR], 2.19; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 1.75-2.75). This increased risk also was observed in a Cox proportional hazards model from the time of exposure to diagnosis (hazards ration [HR], 2.87; 95% CI, 2.31-3.57). The mean time from exposure to diagnosis was 407 months. Agent Orange-exposed men were diagnosed at a younger age (59.7 years; 95% CI, 58.9-60.5 years) compared with unexposed men (62.2 years; 95% CI, 60.8-63.6 years), had a 2-fold increase in the proportion of Gleason scores 8 through 10 (21.8%; 95% CI, 16.5%-27%) compared with unexposed men (10.5%; 95% CI, 5%-15.9%), and were more likely to have metastatic disease at presentation than men who were not exposed (13.4%; 95% CI, 9%- 17.7%) than unexposed men (4%; 95% CI, 0.5%-7.5%). In univariate analysis, distribution by race, smoking history, body mass index, finasteride exposure, clinical stage, and mean prebiopsy PSA were not statistically different. In a multivariate logistic regression model, Agent Orange was the most important predictor not only of developing prostate cancer but also of high-grade and metastatic disease on presentation. CONCLUSIONS. Individuals who were exposed to Agent Orange had an increased incidence of prostate cancer; developed the disease at a younger age, and had a more aggressive variant than their unexposed counterparts. Consideration should be made to classify this group of individuals as 'high risk,' just like men of African-American heritage and men with a family history of prostate cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2464-2470
Number of pages7
Issue number9
StatePublished - Nov 1 2008


  • Agent Orange
  • Dioxins
  • Neoplasms
  • Prostate
  • Vietnam veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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