Military pilots and ground crews showing high rates of cancer, Pentagon study reveals
High rates of cancer among military pilots have been discovered by a Pentagon study.
And for the first time, it’s been shown that ground crews that fuel, maintain and launch those aircraft are getting sick as well.
The Pentagon released the study in early February, the Associated Press reported.
Retired military aviators had long sought the data, the AP said on Sunday, March 19.
The military aviators had raised alarms for years about the number of air and ground crew members they knew who had cancer.
They were told that earlier military studies had found they were not at greater risk than the general US population.
But in a yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017, the Pentagon found that air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer, as the AP reported.
Meanwhile, 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, according to the AP.
The study showed 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.
Women, meanwhile, had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer, the same study found.
The overall rate for cancers of all types was 3% higher, the AP noted.
Navy A-6 Intruder pilot Jim Seaman was one of those who died of cancer at age 61.
He passed away in 2018.
He is among a group of pilots who were diagnosed with cancer, the Associated Press reported.
His widow Betty Seaman has been part of a large group of aviators and surviving spouses who have lobbied Congress and the Pentagon for years to look into the number of cancers aviators and ground crew face.
The Pentagon acknowledged that the study had gaps that likely led to an undercount of cancer cases.
The military health system database used in the study did not have reliable cancer data until 1990 — so it may not have included pilots who flew early-generation jets in the prior decades.
Some good news, too
There was some good news, however, reported as well.
Both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer, and air crews also had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers.
After adjusting for age, sex and race, the data compared the service members with the U.S. general population.
The Pentagon said the new study was one of the largest and most comprehensive done to date.
An earlier study had looked at Air Force pilots only — and had found some higher rates of cancer, while this one looked across all services and at both air and ground crews.
Even with the wider approach, the Pentagon cautioned that the actual number of cancer cases was likely to be even higher because of gaps in the data — which it said it would work to remedy.
The study was required by Congress in the 2021 defense bill, the AP noted.
Now, given that higher rates were found, the Pentagon must conduct an even bigger review to try to understand why crews are getting sick.
The Pentagon took pains to point out that the new 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 of cancer, smoking behavior or alcohol use.
Localized prostate cancer
Meanwhile, an entirely different study found that men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer who want to avoid immediate surgery or radiation can safely choose to actively monitor the disease as a treatment method.
That’s according to a recent study released last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers in the study determined that most men shouldn’t panic or rush to treatment decisions following a diagnosis, as the mortality rate from the cancer 15 years later was relatively low regardless of treatment approach.
The study began in the United Kingdom in 1999.
It involved 2,664 men between the ages of 50 and 69 who were diagnosed with localized prostate cancer.
Of those men, 1,643 were enrolled in a trial studying three different treatment methods — surgery to remove tumors (553), radiation (545), and active monitoring (545).