It’s difficult to know the difference between specific cancers when there are no early symptoms. This is true for sarcoma versus other forms of cancer, especially those that are related to the skin.

Some Veterans may receive VA service-connected disability if diagnosed with certain sarcomas that research indicates are directly related to toxic herbicides exposures, like Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War.

Reno VA plastic surgeon Dr. Karla Werninghaus notes that even after exposure to Agent Orange while in or near Vietnam, cancerous sarcomas among Veterans is very rare.

“There are no standard screenings conducted periodically for sarcoma like colonoscopies for early detection of colon cancer or mammograms for breast cancer,” she said. “But, if a Veteran detects a new hard-like lump on the thigh or buttocks area, get it checked immediately.”

Sarcomas deemed service-connected if exposed to Agent Orange

Reno VA plastic surgeon Dr. Karla Werninghaus

According to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, doctors diagnose less than 200,000 new Sarcoma cases each year in the United States.

Sarcomas listed as presumptive by VA will automatically be deemed a service-connected disability if the Veteran served in or near Vietnam during the Vietnam War. That is because it is assumed they were exposed to Agent Orange. If that Veteran is diagnosed with an illness directly connected to Agent Orange exposure, military service-connection is automatically determined.

More information about service-connected conditions

For more information about presumptive conditions (VA recently added three new illnesses to this list) related to Agent Orange exposure, please click here.

Sarcomas related to military exposure affect the soft body tissues. Those tissues include muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues.

Other sarcomas not considered presumptive to Vietnam-era military exposures are:

  • Osteosarcoma – affects the bone.
  • Chondrosarcoma – affects the cartilage.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma – caused by a rare virus that leaves tumors in the lining of blood and lymph vessels.
  • Mesothelioma – affects the lining surrounding the lungs, stomach, heart, or testicles. Currently, the only known cause is exposure to asbestos.

Skin cancer most common cancer in U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells. Also, cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease.

Dr. Werninghaus also recommends patients mention to their provider – during annual exams – any changes on their skin. If you are prone to new moles and sunspots, see a dermatologist annually.

The American Cancer Society provides more information on skin cancer and ways to prevent it.

If doctors diagnose you with sarcoma or skin cancer, it is important to seek consultation. A Veteran Service Officer or VBA representative can help you file a claim for VA disability.

Just because a condition is not deemed presumptive does not mean that it won’t be considered related to military service.

If your military job or orders means your possible exposure and doctors diagnose you with an illness, you may be eligible for VA compensation for that illness.

To learn more about filing a disability claim for military service-connected injuries or illnesses, please click here.

By Glenna E. Smith is a public affairs officer for the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System

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Published on Jul. 30, 2021

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