A long overdue Pentagon study has found high rates of cancer among military pilots and ground crews.
The study focused on almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017.
The study found that as compared to the general population the air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer. Men had a 16% higher rate of prostate cancer and women a 16% higher rate of breast cancer. Overall, the air crews had a 24% higher rate of cancer of all types.
The study also found ground crews had a 19% higher rate of brain and nervous system cancers, a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer and a 9% higher rate of kidney or renal cancers. Alternatively, women had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. The overall rate for cancers of all types was 3% higher than that compared to the civilized population.
Both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer, and air crews also had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers.
This is one of the Pentagon’s largest and most comprehensive studies. In the past, the Pentagon focused on Air Force pilots whereas in this study all military services were included for both air and ground crews.
“The study “proves that it’s well past time for leaders and policy makers to move from skepticism to belief and active assistance,” said retired Air Force Col. Vince Alcazar, a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which had lobbied the Pentagon and Congress for help. Alcazar serves on the association’s medical issues committee.
The study was a Congressional requirement stemming from the 2021 defense bill.
As a result of finding higher cancer rates, the Pentagon is further required to conduct a second study about why the crews are getting sick.
The Pentagon duly noted that the study “does not imply that military service in air crew or ground crew occupations causes cancer, because there are multiple potential confounding factors that could not be controlled for in this analysis,” such as family histories, smoking or alcohol use.
The study also concludes that crew members were more likely to survive longer than civilians because they were usually diagnosed earlier and the military were in better physical shape
The Pentagon has acknowledged that the study is not the complete picture. It did not include cancer data from Veterans Affairs or state cancer registries, which means it did not capture cases from former crew members who got sick after leaving the military medical system.
“It is important to note that study results may have differed had additional older former service members been included,” the report concluded.
To remedy that, the Pentagon is now going to pull data from those registries to add to the total count.
The 2021 Defense bill requires the Department of Defense to not only identify “carcinogenic toxicants or hazardous materials associated with military flight operations,” but also determine the type of aircraft and locations where diagnosed crews were posted.