Agent Orange was a mix of two herbicidal chemicals -- 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid -- which the U.S. military stored in drums marked with orange bands. Between 1967 and 1971, the military used Agent Orange to strip the leaves from -- or defoliate -- trees, shrubs and other vegetation in Vietnam. This practice helped expose enemies that were hiding in Vietnam’s dense jungles. Unfortunately, exposure to Agent Orange is associated with a variety of diseases, from which many victims and veterans of the Vietnam War still suffer.
Following Congress’s Agent Orange Act of 1991, which provided benefits to veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the effects of the substance and linked it to three specific types of cancer, as the Stanford School of Medicine notes. Those cancers were soft-tissue sarcomas, which invade body tissue including fat, muscle, connective tissue and lymph vessels; Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which impairs lymph glands and other tissues in the lymphatic system; and Hodgkin’s disease, which causes progressive anemia and a progressive swelling of the spleen, liver and lymph nodes. As of 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes several more cancers as being associated with Agent Orange, including respiratory cancers, which can impact the bronchial tubes, trachea, larynx and lungs; multiple myeloma, which invades the plasma cells within bone marrow; chronic B-cell leukemia, which impairs white blood cells; and prostate cancer, which is a cancer of the prostate gland at the neck of the bladder.
The VA officially recognized diabetes as having an association with Agent Orange exposure in 2001. More specifically, Agent Orange is linked to type 2 diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, which is the most common form of the disease. While with type 1 diabetes the body does not produce any insulin, with type 2 diabetes the body either cannot produce enough insulin or cells in the body ignore the insulin that the body produces. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood-sugar levels in the body. When insulin activity is disrupted, blood-sugar levels can spike and impair the functioning of vital organs. Symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst and frequent urination.
Agent Orange is associated with a particular type of heart disease known as ischemia, or ischemic heart disease. The VA recognized this association in 2010. The disease causes an inadequate supply of blood to reach the heart’s muscles, which weakens the heart and impacts its ability to pump blood to the body. Symptoms of ischemic heart disease include dizziness, sensations of heartburn and angina, or severe chest pain that can spread to the back, neck, shoulders and arms. The disease is a common cause of congestive heart failure.
- Stanford School of Medicine: Agent Orange and Prostate Cancer: Fact or Fiction?
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Agent Orange: Diseases Associated with Agent Orange Exposure
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Agent Orange: Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2)
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Agent Orange: Ischemic Heart Disease
- American Diabetes Association: Type 1
- American Diabetes Association: Type 2