ROCKLAND (AP) – A new study led by a Rockland physician and researcher suggests military personnel exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam are at a significantly higher risk of developing an especially aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Dr. Lars Ellison said the research was inspired by the large number of cases of prostate cancer he and other doctors encountered at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Davis, Calif., where Ellison practiced from 2003 to 2007 before coming to Maine.

The study found that soldiers exposed to the powerful herbicide and defoliant are 21/2 times more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease. It also found that the cancer was four times more likely to have spread before being diagnosed.

“These (veterans) are potentially harboring a much more aggressive disease than normal,” and they should be managed more aggressively in response, Ellison, who’s currently deployed to Iraq, told the Bangor Daily News.

The study, which will be published next month in the journal Cancer, was based on a VA database of 13,000 Vietnam veterans from northern California, half of whom had been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and half of whom had no exposure.

Routine annual screening for prostate cancer generally begins at age 50 for men. But certain individuals, including African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, are considered to be at a higher risk and should start screenings at age 40.

Ellison’s study shows that Vietnam veterans are also high-risk, but he points out they’re already past the age where early screening can be done.

“These guys are in their 50s and 60s,” Ellison said. “They’re already too old for early screening.”

It is estimated that the U.S. military sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and similar chemical defoliants in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, according to the study.

The chemicals in Agent Orange break down to dioxin, which is linked to cancer, brain damage, reproductive problems and other ailments in humans.

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