Deadly Cancer and Vietnam Vets
President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor our heroes on Veteran’s Day. However, this does not take into consideration the former Vietnam War soldiers who are being killed by a rare bile duct cancer believed to be caused by liver flukes. This is a parasite found in raw or undercooked fish. This is common in parts of Asia. The Department of Veterans Affairs is denying most claims veterans are filing in hopes of receiving benefits.
The rare cancer has a name: Cholangiocarcinoma. This is a result of ingesting liver flukes. These worms can live for more than 25 years in the bile duct. This can cause inflammation and scarring which can then lead to cancer. Since the cancer is difficult to treat many victims are dead within months following diagnosis. Usually no symptoms appear, such as jaundice, until the end stages.
The liver flukes are extremely hearty. They die when frozen, but if they are pickled they can survive. Some 25 million people are infected with the parasites. This type of cancer is unusual. In some cases it can be prevented. There are pills available that can wipe out the liver flukes if taken early. The pills are not effective in later stages once the worms have died and scarring has taken place. Surgery is possible but only about 30 percent live for five years.
Soldiers who served in the Vietnam War sometimes ate raw or poorly cooked fish once their rations were exhausted. As a result they could have been infected by liver flukes. If not treated symptoms might appear decades later. Some soldiers may not be aware of the time they serve and the possible connection with the worm disease.
Each veteran must prove their case to the Department of Veterans Affairs that their cancer is related to their service in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the VA rejects the majority of claims: three out of four.