Many other factors can influence cancer incidence, including screening methods, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, genetic predisposition, and medical history. Those factors can make someone more or less likely than the average to contract a given kind of cancer; they also need to be taken into account in epidemiologic studies of the possible contributions of the chemicals of interest.
Each section of this chapter pertaining to a specific type of cancer includes a summary of the findings described in the previous Agent Orange reports: Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam, hereafter referred to as VAO (IOM, 1994); Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996, referred to as Update 1996 (IOM, 1996); Update 1998 (IOM, 1999); Update 2000 (IOM, 2001); Update 2002 (IOM, 2003); Update 2004 (IOM, 2005); Update 2006 (IOM, 2007); and Update 2008 (IOM, 2009). That is followed by a discussion of the most recent scientific literature, a discussion of biologic plausibility, and a synthesis of the material reviewed. When it is appropriate, the literature is discussed by exposure type (service in Vietnam, occupational exposure, or environmental exposure). Each section ends with the committee’s conclusion regarding the strength of the evidence from epidemiologic studies. The categories of association and the committee’s approach to categorizing the health outcomes are discussed in Chapters 1 and 2.
Biologic plausibility corresponds to the third element of the committee’s congressionally mandated statement of task. In fact, the degree of biologic plausibility itself influences whether the committee perceives positive findings to be indicative of an association or the product of statistical fluctuations (chance) or bias.
Information on biologic mechanisms by which exposure to TCDD could contribute to the generic (rather than tissue-specific or organ-specific) carcinogenic potential of the chemicals of interest is summarized in Chapter 4. It distills toxicologic information concerning the mechanisms by which TCDD affects the basic process of carcinogenesis; such information, of course, applies to all the cancer sites discussed individually in this chapter. When biologic plausibility is discussed in this chapter’s sections on particular cancer types, the generic information is implicit, and only experimental data peculiar to carcinogenesis at the site in question are presented. It is of note that in this update we have explicitly included an examination of the contribution of epigenetic mechanisms in assessing the carcinogenicity of TCDD. A large literature indicates that carcinogenesis is a process that involves not only genetic changes but also epigenetic changes (Johnstone and Baylin, 2010). There is emerging evidence that TCDD and the chemicals of interest may disturb epigenetic processes (see Chapter 4), and reference to this evidence, as it applies to cancers is included where it exists, by cancer site.
Considerable uncertainty remains about the magnitude of risk posed by exposure to the chemicals of interest. Many of the veteran, occupational, and environmental studies reviewed by the committee did not control fully for important