What Is an Agent Orange Disease?

An Agent Orange disease is an illness caused by the toxic herbicide, Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War by the United States military. People who were exposed to this herbicide may suffer a wide range of maladies, including nervous system problems, cancer, and heart disease. It may also cause medical conditions, such as spina bifida, in the children born to people who were exposed. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) recognizes certain conditions as resulting from this exposure in order to grant disability compensation to veterans.

Agent Orange was thus named because of the orange-colored band on the drums containing the herbicide. The chemical compound itself is colorless. It was sprayed from helicopters and planes on potential hiding places of enemy combatants in order to kill the foliage and grant U.S. soldiers a clear line of fire. In the process, millions of Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers, along with civilians, were exposed to this dangerous chemical. Exposure occurred through absorption into the skin, inhalation, or ingestion by contaminated food.

Several types of cancer are recognized as being directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. This includes Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is an aggressive cancer that attacks the liver and lymph nodes. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may also occur, which is several different types of cancers that all attack the lymph glands. Soft tissue sarcoma is another Agent Orange disease, in which various types of cancer attacks tissues like muscle, connective tissues, and blood. Prostate cancer and respiratory cancers, including lung cancer have also been reported.

Different types of neuropathies are also included in the Agent Orange disease category. Neuropathy refers to damage to the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy can lead to muscle weakness or wasting, along with a loss of sensation. Acute peripheral neuropathy causes numbness in a person's extremities.

People exposed to this dangerous herbicide may also develop medical conditions involving the skin. Chloracne is another Agent Orange disease, which presents with red eruptions on the skin. Lesions and changes in skin pigment have also been reported, which may indicate porphyria cutanea tarda. Tumors on the skin is another type of Agent Orange disease, such as dermatofibrosarcoma and ectomesenchymoma.

In addition to those who suffered from the initial exposure, the children of those affected may be born with birth defects. Congenital fibrosarcoma is a cancerous tumor that forms on a person's connective tissue and is present before birth. Some children have also been born with spina bifida. This genetic condition means that the spinal cord did not properly close, and so the spine is exposed through the skin or it may protrude through the skin.

Many other diseases and tumors are directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans and civilians who believe that they may have an Agent Orange disease should seek help from their doctor and contact their military organization for assistance. This herbicide was also used in Korea, other Southeast Asian countries, and at military installations in the U.S. and around the world.


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