U.S. Soldiers Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan Have Higher Prostate Cancer Risk

Most urologist and health organizations recommend men have a baseline PSA screening in their 40s—unless a family history or other risk factor merits earlier testing. After all, prostate cancer is typically associated with men in their 50 and older.

While a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan isn’t included on the list of “official” risk factors, it probably should be. More than two million American soldiers have been deployed during the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq—and many of them have been exposed to United States weapons made with depleted uranium (DU). Now veteran advocacy groups are sounding the alarm much the way they’ve done regarding a host of health issues associated with Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide containing dioxin that was used to deforest jungles during the Vietnam War.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of enriched uranium. Uranium is a heavy metal found in the Earth’s crust and used to fuel nuclear power facilities. Because depleted uranium is 1.67 times more dense than lead, it is used to manufacture armor-piercing munitions that belong to a class of weapons called kinetic energy penetrators. The part of the weapon made from DU is a lethal, dart-like tip known as the penetrator that can be found on weapons of all shapes and sizes. DU is also used as protective armor that encases M1A1 and M1A2 battle tanks, and in some landmines. The United States began using DU weapons extensively during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

When combusted via explosions or high impact, DU creates a dense, toxic and carcinogenic aerosol composed of uranium oxide. This aerosol is carried by the wind and is often inhaled. It settles on clothing, on water, and in the sand and brush used for cover—contaminating everything in its path. Uranium oxide can be detected in a person’s system for decades after exposure.

Along with the airborne danger, concentrated DU munitions emit radioactive alpha, beta and gamma rays, along with neutrons and X-rays. DU munitions stored on pallets and in containers for transport or stockpiled for future use emit toxic levels of radiation, too. An excerpt from an official report by an Amy Radiation Safety Officer (docket 18576; Sept. 21, 2004; Army’s Crane Army Ammunition Activity, IN), reveals the danger.

“Pallet contact radiation dose rates are generally twice, and in one case, over four times the regulatory limit for Limited Quantity materials. However, pallet and modal conveyance dose rates at one meter are generally a multiple of three to six times justifiable Limited Quantity classification, and for one sized round, six to eleven times. In the case of this latter round, inappropriate radiation exposures could occur to transport workers by being in the vicinity of the material for just 100 hours per year.”

Simply touching or being in close proximity to DU weapons puts a person at risk.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified DU as a Class 1 carcinogen. While the Department of Defense denies and disclaims any connection between DU and cancer (much the way it did with Agent Orange and the health illnesses it triggered in Vietnam vets), the past few years have seen a growing amount of peer-reviewed research confirming that DU is a genotoxic agent that damages DNA and can trigger several types of cancer—including prostate cancer.

Veteran watchdog organizations are reporting an increase in the incidence of prostate cancer and other male-specific cancers for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans versus the general population. United States military stats confirm that active duty servicemen have double the rate of prostate cancer as men in the civilian population. And young servicemen—men who are well below the median age for prostate cancer—are not immune. A 27-year-old soldier just back from Afghanistan diagnosed with prostate cancer may not be an anomaly.

One recent study, “Cancer Incidence in the U.S. Military Population: Comparison with Rates from the SEER Program” published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that the rates of prostate cancer are significantly higher in active duty military personnel than among the civilian population. The report also noted that active duty military personnel are younger than men in the general population.

With scores of soldiers—many as young as 19 years old—having served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, waiting until age 40 or 50 to have a PSA test could have devastating consequences. With prostate cancer, early detection is critically important to ensuring the best possible outcome.

If you or someone you love served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were exposed to depleted uranium weapons, contact us online or call us at 1-888-PROSTATE (1-888-776-7828) to schedule a PSA test.

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