Study confirms higher incidence of smoking-related cancers among Korean veterans

Korean War veterans are more likely to have significantly higher levels of smoking-related cancers than people of similar age in the general population, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) study released today by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Danna Vale.

Cancer Incidence Study 2003: Australian Veterans of the Korean War, conducted for the Australian Government, examined the incidence of cancer experienced by more than 15,000 Australian male veterans of the Korean War. A group of 884 veterans, who could not be confirmed as alive and residing in Australia, were separately included and excluded from the calculations to give a range of cancer incidence rates.

The study found that the incidence of head and neck cancers for Korean veterans between 1982 and 1999 was 76-90% higher than for the Australian community.

The incidence of larynx cancer was 60-72% higher, oesophagus cancer 42-54% higher and lung cancer 31-42% higher.

Smoking is a major risk factor for all the above cancers.

The report shows that, overall, incidence rates of all cancers among Korean War veterans were 13-23% higher than expected.

The most common cancers in Korean veterans were prostate cancer (21% of total cancers), lung cancer (19%), colon cancer (8%), melanoma (7%), cancer of the rectum (6%), and head and neck cancers (5%).

Almost 60% of the 3,543 veterans who developed cancer between 1982 and 1999 had died by 1999.

Head of the AIHW's Population Health Unit, Dr Paul Jelfs, said it was unclear why there seemed to be much higher levels of smoking-related cancers among the Korean War veteran community.

'What we do know is that even if all veterans smoked, the higher rates of head and neck cancers can't be fully explained by smoking. This suggests that other factors play a part.'

Cancer patterns were also compared across each of the Services-the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Veterans who served in the Army experienced a higher incidence of cancer across a wider range of cancers than veterans who served in the Navy or RAAF.

'The incidence of smoking-related cancers was also significantly higher than expected among those who served with the Army,' Dr Jelfs said.

Cancer Incidence Study 2003: Australian Veterans of the Korean War was commissioned by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and produced by the AIHW.

2 December 2003

Further information on the report's content: Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1145
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032