08 July 2015

C-123 Agent Orange Breast Cancer – What Do We Know So Far?

We've just started looking into this terrible disease which seems to strike veterans more frequently than women without military service. In particular, we want to address Agent Orange exposures aboard our C-123 aircraft. There seems to be an association between the confirmed dioxin exposure on the C-123s and the women's long-term, low-dose exposures between 1972-1982.

We don't know much. I'll list here what we've got so far:

1. We don't know the details of our own cohort...who many women, how many illnesses?

2. We don't find strong association of dioxin exposure with breast cancer in the literature.

3. WHO says dioxin increases the risk of all cancers. Men also get breast cancer, but more rarely.

4. VA does not include breast cancer among their list of Agent Orange-presumptive illnesses.

5. Our exposure range in age of the veterans spans most of the reproductive years (age 18 & up)

6. According to Lurker et al., the primary route of exposure is dermal to oral with a minor contribution from inhalation and not very much contribution from direct dermal contact

7. Our population is too small for a valid epidemiological analysis, so we may have to be satisfied with spikes and raw data. With regards to an epidemiological study, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR) provides epidemiological studies of hazardous waste sites that are on the National Priority List (NPL). Typically, ASTDR staff and local public health officials identify the number of cancer cases in the area around the site and compare them to what the normal rate of cancer would be (i.e., a control group outside the affected NPL site).

8. VA is required to assess our claims in a pro-veteran, non-adversarial, paternalistic manner. While it's not likely, we can hope that VA's subject matter experts can offer input.

9. VA does not list breast cancer among the presumptive illnesses recognized for service connection, so breast cancer will have to be approached on a "fact-proven" basis for which we must establish at least a plausible medical nexus.

10. There are many potential allies in the breast cancer community to whom we can reach out for help.

11. We have momentum and credibility, having fought the basic C-123/Agent Orange battle and won.

12. We don't have and don't want funds, either raised from among ourselves or accepted from outside.

13. If this takes a long while, resolution is likely to be more for our survivors than ourselves.

14. Our veterans need to submit claims to the VA for any and all ailments, even if not presently on VA's list of recognized Agent Orange illnesses. Benefits date from the application.

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