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The Pentagon study says that military pilots and ground crews face higher rates of cancer

a Pentagon study He found high rates of cancer among military pilots, and for the first time showed that the ground crews who fuel, maintain, and launch these aircraft were also getting sick.

This data has long been sought after by retired military pilots, who have raised alarms for years about how many air and ground crew members they know have cancer. They were told that previous military studies had found they were at no greater risk than the general US population.

In its year-long study of nearly 900,000 service members who flew or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017, the Pentagon found that aircrew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer, While men had an increased incidence of thyroid cancer. The incidence of prostate cancer is 16% higher, and women are 16% higher than the incidence of breast cancer. Overall, aircrews had a 24% higher incidence of cancer of all types.

The study showed that ground crews had a 19% higher rate of cancers of the brain and nervous system, a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer, and a 9% higher rate of renal or kidney cancer, while women had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. the breast. The overall rate of cancers of all types was 3% higher.

United States, France and the army
An F/A-18 Hornet is seen early morning on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush on May 12, 2018 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Some good news has also been reported. Both ground and air crews had significantly lower rates of lung cancer, and aircrews had lower rates of bladder and colon cancer.

The data compared service members with the general population in the United States after adjusting for age, sex, and race.

The Pentagon said the new study is one of the largest and most comprehensive to date. An earlier study looked at only Air Force pilots and found some higher rates of cancer, while this study looked at all services and at both air and ground crews. Even with the broader approach, the Pentagon has warned that the actual number of cancer cases is likely to be higher due to gaps in the data, which it said it would work to remedy.

Retired Air Force Col. Vince Alcazar, a member of the Red River Valley Combat Pilots Association, which has lobbied at the Pentagon, said the study “proves that now is the time for leaders and policymakers to move from skepticism to faith and active assistance.” And Congress to help. Alcazar is a member of the Society’s Medical Affairs Committee.

The study was required by Congress in the 2021 defense bill. Now, because there are higher rates, the Pentagon should do a larger review to try to understand why the crew got sick.

Possible causes are difficult to isolate, and the Pentagon was careful to note that this study “does not mean that military service in the aircrew or groundcrew occupations causes cancer, because there are many potential confounding factors that cannot be controlled for in this analysis,” such as family history. or smoking or alcohol abuse.

Fighter plane landing at a military airport
An F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet extended its landing gear to land at the US military airfield in Spangdahlem.

Harald Tittel / picture via Getty Images

But flight crews have long called on the Pentagon to look more closely at some of the environmental factors they’re exposed to, such as jet fuel and solvents used to clean and maintain jet parts, sensors and their power sources in aircraft nose cones, and bulk fuel. Radar systems on the decks of the ships you land on.

His widow, Betty Seaman, said that when Marine Captain Jim Seaman came home from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier, his equipment would smell of jet fuel. An A-6 Intruder pilot died in 2018 at the age of 61 from lung cancer. His equipment is still stored and still smells of fuel, “which I love,” Betty Seaman said.

She and others wonder if there is a link. She said the ship’s crews would talk about how the ship’s water systems would smell the fuel.

She said she and others have mixed feelings about finally seeing data what they’ve suspected for years. But, she said, “it has the potential to do a lot of good in terms of early communications and early detection.”

The study found that when crew members were diagnosed with cancer, they were more likely to survive than the general population, which the study suggested was because they were diagnosed earlier due to regular required medical exams and were more likely to be in better health. due to military fitness requirements.

The Pentagon acknowledged that the study had holes that could potentially lead to a decrease in the number of cancer cases.

The Military Health System database used in the study did not have reliable data on cancer until 1990, so it may not have included pilots who had flown first-generation aircraft in previous decades.

The study also didn’t include cancer data from the Veterans Affairs Administration or state cancer registries, which means it didn’t capture cases from former crew members who developed the disease after leaving the military medical system.

“It is important to note that the results of the study might have been different if other members older than military service had been included,” she said.

To address this, the Pentagon will now pull data from those records to add to the total number, the study said.

The second phase of the study will attempt to isolate the causes. The 2021 bill would require the Department of Defense to not only identify “carcinogenic toxic substances or hazardous materials associated with military aviation operations,” but also the type of aircraft and locations where the diagnosed crew served.

After her husband fell ill, Betty Seaman asked him if he would choose differently, knowing that his service might be related to his cancer.

I asked Jim emphatically. And he said, without hesitation, “I’d do it.” “

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