View Full Version : Brain cancer in Gulf War vets linked to nerve agent

07-26-05, 06:51 PM
July 26, 2005
Brain cancer in Gulf War vets linked to nerve agent
By Liz Szabo
USA Today

For the first time, a study has found an increase in brain cancer deaths among Gulf War veterans who potentially were exposed to the nerve agent sarin by the destruction of Iraqi weapons in 1991.

About 100,000 of the 350,000 Army soldiers in the Persian Gulf may have been exposed to sarin and other chemical weapons after soldiers blew up two large ammunition caches in Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March 1991, according to a study commissioned by the military and performed by the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on health policy.

At the time, the military didn’t believe the Iraqi rockets that were destroyed contained any chemical weapons, and no one showed signs of chemical warfare exposure, says Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director for the Deployment Health Support Directorate in the Department of Defense.

Later, however, United Nations inspectors found that some of the weapons contained sarin, a nerve agent that can cause convulsions and death. The military has since contacted about 300,000 veterans to let them know whether they may have been exposed.

Soldiers in the “hazard area” — a region that includes anywhere that winds might have carried chemical weapons — were about twice as likely as those outside it to die from brain cancer, according to the new article, published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Because the actual number of brain cancer cases was small, the overall mortality rate for veterans in the hazard area and outside the area was the same.

Among unexposed soldiers, researchers found a brain cancer death rate of 12 deaths per 100,000 people between 1991 and 2000, says William Page, director of the study. Over the same period, researchers found 25 brain cancer deaths per 100,000 veterans who were exposed.

“It’s a doubling of risk, but it’s still a pretty small risk,” says Page, a senior program officer at the IOM.

Sarin has never been shown to cause cancer. Page suggests researchers follow veterans to see if the risk of brain cancer, which is believed to develop over 10 to 20 years, changes over time.

The study doesn’t prove that being in the hazard area caused brain cancer, Page says.

Melissa Bondy, a professor of epidemiology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says she is surprised that only one or two days of exposure would increase brain cancer mortality. Chemicals typically take years to cause cancer.

Other experts note the study may shed light on the causes of brain tumors, about which doctors know little.

“It’s a very solid study,” says Faith Davis, a University of Illinois-Chicago professor. “It needs to be taken seriously.”


08-19-05, 02:31 PM
Gulf War Study May Link Nerve Agent Exposure, Brain Tumors
by Ellen Maurer
Deputy Public Affairs Officer
NRMC Bethesda

Troops exposed to nerve agents during the March 1991 weapons demolitions at Khamisiyah, Iraq, could be at a higher risk for brain tumors, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health August 2005.

The study focused on the specific nerve agents of sarin or cyclosarin and analyzed 60 separate causes of mortality among more than 325,000 Army veterans. No Navy or Marine Corps personnel were involved in the study, because none were reported as operating in the possible exposure area at the time.

Results of the study found the risks of most disease-related mortality were similar for exposed and unexposed veterans; however, exposed veterans did have an increased risk of death from brain cancer.

Research showed exposed veterans were about twice as likely to have died from brain cancer as unexposed veterans, corresponding to roughly a dozen brain cancer-related deaths among the 100,487 exposed veterans over a nine-year period. Furthermore, the risk of brain cancer death was greater among those exposed to the nerve agents for two or more days, as compared with those exposed to the nerve agents for only one day or less.

"This study demonstrated a very low death rate among Army Gulf War veterans and no increase in the overall death rate for those exposed to low levels of nerve agents -- this is reassuring, though the small increase in brain tumor mortality is concerning," said LCDR Thomas Luke, a Preventive Medicine officer at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, DC.

The findings surprised medical experts, because neither sarin nor cyclosarin are known carcinogens. Nevertheless, officials from the Defense Department for Health Affairs said they plan to send letters to veterans who were identified as potentially exposed to these low levels of chemical warfare and notify them of the study's results.

For Gulf War veterans who are no longer affiliated with the military, the Veterans Affairs will offer a medical evaluation program. Individuals can schedule an appointment by calling the Veterans Affairs' Gulf War helpline at (800) 749-8387.

"We care about our veterans' health and we will continue to investigate and respond to their long-term health issues and concerns," Luke said. "We are working closely with the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and his staff, and will continue to support further research into this and other Gulf War related health issues."



09-17-05, 07:17 PM