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Veterans with blood cancers from Agent Orange and Depleted Uranium

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by

Last week I started to write about the specific cancers, treatment options, effectiveness of specific treatment options, the use of biological response modifiers in treating diseases related to Agent Orange (AO) and Deplete Uranium (DU) exposure, and prophylactic paths one can take in being pro-active in their own healthcare (see:

This week I promised to discuss the lymphomas and leukemias as they relate to AO and DU exposure, but since such exposure can lead to all the related blood cancers, I will include multiple myeloma, and Hodgkin’s Disease.

To fully understand how dioxin, the chief villain in AO, manifests itself in relationship to the human immune system, one must note that dioxin’s adverse effects are not confined to humans. Dioxin has now been linked to influenza spread by bird flu viruses, possibly due to the effect dioxin has had on the fowl’s immune system. Dioxin is found in varying amounts in our food supply, the air we breathe and the water we drink. So let’s start with the assumption that dioxins occur as by-products in the manufacture of some organochlorines, in the incineration of chlorine-containing substances such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), in the chlorine bleaching of paper, and from natural sources such as volcanoes and forest fires. They are significant environmental pollutants.

It is safe to say that virtually every human being has low levels of dioxin in his/her system which has been ingested in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. The national average of dioxin in human tissue has been carefully estimated to be 28 ppt (parts/trillion). This was the analysis of the most extensive survey of dioxin in humans, the National Human Adipose Tissue Survey (NHATS). Additional dioxin from exposure or from contact with Agent Orange is reason for concern. In all Vietnam for example the average is about 33ppt, but 43 people tested from Bien Hoa City (in southern Vietnam) had dioxin levels as high as 413 ppt in their blood and as we have witnessed is responsible for long-lasting health problems that can be transferred to future generations by procreation.

Depleted Uranium on the other hand, poses some similar health problems as exposure to AO. From the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 67:277–296, 2004:

“The first widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) by U.S. military forces in the 1991 Gulf War created an unintended consequence of exposing soldiers to this radioactive heavy metal already well known for its chemical toxicity in workers in the nuclear industry (ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1999). Possessing almost twice the density of lead, DU is relatively low in cost and is used both as material for tank armor and in armor-piercing weapon rounds.

A by-product of the uranium enrichment process, DU possesses only 60 % of the radioactivity of natural uranium, as it has been “depleted” of much of the more radioactive 235 U and 234 U isotopes (Army Environmental Policy Institute, 1995).  Uranium decays primarily by high-energy emission of alpha particles, which travel short distances in tissues; thus the principal radiological hazard is to tissues in immediate contact with internalized DU small particles or fragments. The dose is a function of contact time, particle solubility, and rate of elimination (Army Environmental Policy Institute, 1995; Eckerman, 1988).  

Several exposure scenarios occurred in the 1991 Gulf War conflict, the most significant involving “friendly fire” incidents during which tank crews were fired upon with DU penetrators. The majority of these exposures were of short duration and involved inhalation of aerosolized DU particles that were primarily uranium oxides (from the cook off). These exposures occurred in individuals on or in a tank when it was hit, or in rescuers on the scene immediately thereafter. DU particles could also have contaminated wounds or could have been ingested following coughing to clear airways. Another more unique exposure scenario has developed chronically over time, whereby DU shrapnel fragments embedded in soft tissue are oxidizing in situ and allowing systemic, ongoing uranium absorption.”

Results from clinically available measures of immune competence and a panel of phenotypic markers suggest that troops exposure to depleted uranium not including uranium oxide products from the “cook off” following exploded munitions, have no clinically significant effect on immune parameters. Future studies should include a clinical battery of immune competence measures to follow any effect that may occur as exposure duration continues. So DU, while not having a significant effect in its base form still leaves a great deal of concern when ingested over time and repeatedly (long-term) through inhalation of its aerosolized state.

In a major study by Board of Population Health and Public Health Practice, Institute of Medicines of the National Academies, The committee concludes that there is inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association between exposure to uranium and leukemias exists; that there is inadequate/insufficient evidence to determine whether an association between exposure to uranium and lymphomas exists. This conclusion applies to both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, however, the committee concludes that further study of this type of cancer may be warranted on biologic grounds, given that uranium is known to accumulate in the lymph nodes.

All the studies, tests, medical papers, and other opinions of scientific gurus are meaningless if you are Gulf War Veteran and afflicted with Leukemia, Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, or Hodgkin’s Disease. It must also be noted that cancer may not become apparent until many years after exposure to a radioactive material. So let’s discuss the types of treatment you will face in the battle with what are categorized as “blood cancers”.

Leukemia and myeloma grow within the bone marrow, they can interfere with the bone marrow’s ability to produce normal blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. This can cause frequent infections, anemia, and easy bruising. Lymphomas, which most typically appear as enlargement of the lymph nodes, can also interfere with the body’s ability to fight infections. Additionally, myelomas generate a substance that weakens bones, and produce abnormal proteins that can cause symptoms in other parts of the body.

Several therapies are available to treat blood cancers including:

  • Biological therapy to attack cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy to attack cancer cells
  • Participation in a clinical trial testing promising new treatments for blood cancers
  • Radiation therapy to attack cancer cells
  • Stem cell transplant to provide healthy stem cells that can make healthy blood cells
  • Targeted therapy to attack cancer cells
  • Watchful waiting to identify when to start treatment

CHOP chemotherapy is one of the most common chemotherapy regimens for treating Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

CHOP chemotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction with immunotherapy drugs such as monoclonal antibody Rituximab (Rituxin) to see if the combination will produce better results. This may be abbreviated CHOP-R or CHOP+R.
The following are the drugs used in the CHOP regimen.

  • Cyclophosphamide (brand names cytoxan, neosar)
  • Adriamycin (doxorubicin / hydroxydoxorubicin)
  • Vincristine (Oncovin)
  • Prednisone (sometimes called Deltasone or Orasone)

Total Body Irradiation

In addition to chemotherapy, some patients also receive Total Body Irradiation (TBI) as part of their preparation for transplant. TBI is given in divided doses, called fractions, at the Radiation Oncology Department. The number of fractions received will depend on the treatment guideline or protocol. Each visit takes 1-1.5 hours.

Non-Myeloablative Regimens/Reduced Intensity – followed by stem cell therapy

The purpose of non-myeloablative or reduced intensity regimens is to create space in the patient’s marrow for donor cells. These regimens can accomplish this goal by giving lower doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation in conjunction with immunosuppressive agents; or standard doses of chemotherapy with or without 1 –2 fractions of TBI are administered. These regimens vary depending on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the available protocols. The patient’s physician will discuss the best drugs and doses for the disease being treated.

Stem cell Infusion

Once the patient has completed the conditioning regimen, he/she will undergo a stem cell infusion from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Stem cell transplants have been used for years and can be curative in the right environment. Allogeneic stem cells are received from an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) compatible tissue donor. Autologous stems cells are “rescue stem cells” that are from the patient. Cord blood stem cells are cells that may be found through the National marrow Donor Program and are derived from the umbilical cords of newborns that have been cryo-preserved.  A stem cell or bone marrow transplant may sound dramatic, however the actual procedure is quite simple. The cells are infused through a central venous catheter similar to a blood transfusion.

Biological response modifiers

Biological Response Modifiers (BRM’s) can be natural or man-made from a variety of animal tissue and/or recombinant DNA. Interferon-α is produced by a recombinant DNA process using genetically engineered Escherichia coli (e-coli bacteria). Recombinant interferon-α appears to be most effective against hairy-cell leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

Natural occurring biological response modifiers are ingested regularly in the products we eat and drink. Two of the most prevalent are Beta Glucan and Resveratrol, however just because we may have a small daily intake, we may never see a therapeutic benefit because the doses may be microscopic. Interestingly Beta Glucan and Resveratrol have been used medicinally for decades in countries other than the US. Beta Glucan has been approved for treating cancer in Japan for a couple of decades. Both Beta Glucan and Resveratrol have been studied in the US for over thirty years with thousands of scientific research papers written on their benefit.

There are currently over thirty clinical studies being conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), for using these two natural biological response modifiers in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation, made-made biological response modifiers, and their effect as immune boosting products. As radiation and chemotherapy will absolutely damage one’s immune system it makes sense that finding ways to immediately return an immune system to full function is an ideal goal, so that viral, bacteria, and fungal diseases do not kill  the patient. More information on Biological Response Modifiers can be found on my website at .