the chemicals of interest—2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and its contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), picloram, and cacodylic acid—and various types of cancer. The committee also considers studies of exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other dioxin-like chemicals (DLCs) informative if their results were reported in terms of TCDD toxic equivalents (TEQs) or concentrations of specific congeners of DLCs. If a new study reported on only a single type of cancer and did not revisit a previously studied population, its design information is summarized here with its results; design information on all other new studies can be found in Chapter 5.
The objective of this chapter is assessment of whether the occurrence of various cancers in Vietnam veterans themselves may be associated with exposure they may have received during military service. Therefore, studies of childhood cancers in relation to parental exposure to the chemicals of interest are discussed in Chapter 8, which addresses possible adverse effects in the veterans’ offspring. Studies that consider only childhood exposure are not considered relevant to the committee’s charge.
In an evaluation of a possible connection between herbicide exposure and risk of cancer, the approach used to assess the exposure of study subjects is of critical importance in determining the overall relevance and usefulness of findings. As noted in Chapters 3 and 5, there is great variety in detail and accuracy of exposure assessment among studies. A few studies used biologic markers of exposure, such as the presence of a chemical in serum or tissues; some developed an index of exposure from employment or activity records; and some used other surrogate measures of exposure, such as presence in a locale when herbicides were used. As noted in Chapter 2, inaccurate assessment of exposure can obscure the relationship between exposure and disease.
Each section on a type of cancer opens with background information, including data on its incidence in the general US population and known or suspected risk factors. Cancer-incidence data on the general US population are included in the background material to provide a context for consideration of cancer risk in Vietnam veterans; the figures presented are estimates of incidence in the entire US population, not predictions for the Vietnam-veteran cohort. The data reported are for 2004–2008 and are from the most recent dataset available (NCI, 2010). Incidence data are given for all races combined and separately for blacks and whites. The age range of 55–69 years now includes about 80% of Vietnam-era veterans, and incidences are presented for three 5-year age groups: 55–59 years, 60–64 years, and 65–69 years. The data were collected for the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute and are categorized by sex, age, and race, all of which can have profound effects on risk. For example, the incidence of prostate cancer is about 2.6 times as high in men who are 65–69 years old as in men 55–59 years old and almost twice as high in blacks 55–64 years old as in whites in the same age group (NCI, 2010).