Exposure to Nerve Agents in Gulf War Increases Risk of Death from Brain Cancer

Exposure to Nerve Agents in Gulf War Increases Risk of Death from Brain Cancer in Veterans

According to a report recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, veterans who were exposed to nerve agents in the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991 appear to have a significant increase in death from brain cancer over their counterparts who were not exposed to the agents.

Brain cancer occurs when cancerous cells arise from tissues in the brain. There are several types of brain cancer, which are categorized according to the type of cell within the brain where the cancer originated. In addition, the stage (extent of spread of cancer) is also considered for categorization of brain cancer. Standard treatment for brain cancer often includes surgery if possible, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Due to the high prevalence of cancer in the United States, researches continue to investigate possible environmental associations that may be responsible for the development of cancer.

Researchers recently analyzed data from Gulf War veterans who served in Iraq in the early 1990s. Veterans who were exposed to chemical munitions, or nerve agents, during the March 1991 weapons demolitions in Khamisiyah, Iraq, appear to have a significantly increased risk of death from brain cancer than their counterparts who also served in the war, but were not exposed to these nerve agents. This study included over 100,000 veterans who were exposed to these nerve agents and nearly 225,000 veterans who served in the same war, but were not exposed to the agents. Veterans exposed for one day to the chemical munitions had a 72 percent increased risk of death from brain cancer compared to their unexposed counterparts; veterans exposed for two or more days to the chemical munitions had a 226 percent increased risk of death from brain cancer compared to their unexposed counterparts. These results translate into 12 to 13 excess deaths out of 100,000 people. There were no differences in terms of mortality from other diseases between veterans exposed to the chemical munitions compared to veterans who were not exposed to the agents.

The researchers concluded that there appears to be a significant increase in brain cancer deaths associated with exposure to nerve agents in the Gulf War, specifically the March 1991 chemical munitions destruction in Khamisiyah, Iraq. However, the researchers caution that further study is necessary to provide confirmatory evidence of this association. War veterans who were exposed to nerve agents may wish to speak with their physicians regarding their individual risks and possible screening for brain cancer.

Reference: Bullman T, et al. Mortality in U.S. Army Gulf War Veterans Exposed to 1991 Khamisiyah Chemicals Munitions Destruction. American Journal of Public Health. 2005. Available at: . Accessed July 2005.

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