Possible link between Agent Orange, leukemia
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Research released Thursday suggests a possible association between a child's chance of getting a type of leukemia and a parent's exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam War that already has been linked to several health problems among veterans and their offspring.
But a congressionally mandated report from the Institute of Medicine stopped short of establishing a direct cause and effect between Agent Orange and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), instead calling the evidence "limited or suggestive."
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chair of the committee that conducted the study, said researchers saw a 70 percent higher risk of AML for children whose parents served in Vietnam or Cambodia.
Researchers analyzed three studies comparing children with AML to healthy children. While a higher incidence of AML was found in children whose fathers served in either Vietnam or Cambodia, there was no difference in the incidence of AML between children of fathers who served there and said they were exposed to Agent Orange and those who served in those countries but said they had not been exposed.
However, the researchers relied on self-reporting of Agent Orange exposure, and they said people don't always know if they had been exposed. Coupled with other studies in Americans that have shown parents who were exposed to pesticides or weedkillers have a higher percentage of children with AML, the researchers believe the results could reflect exposure to Agent Orange.
"We think the evidence is suggestive," said Hertz-Picciotto. But she said more study is needed to see if there is a direct link between the herbicide and the disease.
Even with increased risk, the actual number of childhood leukemia cases is still relatively small -- fewer than 30 total additional cases among all children of Vietnam veterans.
It is believed that Agent Orange contained small amounts of dioxin, a compound that is known to cause illness and birth defects in laboratory animals.
Three million Americans served in Vietnam. Government figures show an estimated 100,000 troops were exposed to Agent Orange, though many veterans contend the number is much greater.
The Institute of Medicine report has drawn the interest of the Veteran's Administration. More than 100,000 veterans have filed health claims relating to Agent Orange exposure, and more than 8,000 vets already receive VA disability compensation.
Three cancers have been linked to Agent Orange: Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and soft tissue sarcoma.
In 1998 researchers found an association between Agent Orange and spina bifida in the offspring of exposed veterans. And last year an Air Force study found a 47 percent higher incidence of adult onset diabetes in Vietnam veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange as compared to other veterans.
The government says it will continue to study health effects of Agent Orange exposure to inform veterans of any new concerns.
CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Senior Producer Christy Feig, CNN Executive Producer Susan Lilly and CNN Producer Jonathan Lynch contributed to this report.
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