Bad News: U.S. Air Force Pilots Face Increased Cancer Risks
A recent study, titled “Cancer Incidence and mortality among fighter aviators,” contains many troubling revelations.
Here's What You Need To Know: The study concluded that its findings “do not justify wholesale changes to cancer prevention recommendations for U.S. Air Force fighter aviators,” although current and former aviators are asked to discuss the report with their flight surgeon or doctor.
An Air Force study conducted earlier this year found that fighter pilots and crew members in the U.S. Air Force are “far more likely to be diagnosed with certain types of cancers than their fellow airmen,” Defense One reported this week.
The study, titled “Cancer Incidence and mortality among fighter aviators,” was conducted by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing.
The new study, dated May 26, appears to provide stronger evidence than before of a pattern that had long been suspected.
“Compared to their non-fighter peers, the study found, fighter pilots and their crew were 29 percent more likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer; 24 percent more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma; and 23 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Defense One reported.
“When compared to the general U.S. population, fighter aviators were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma, and 19 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer,” per Defense One. “The study also found that the fighter aviators had similar rates of other types of cancer, such as brain cancer, compared to non-flying Air Force officers. And compared to the general U.S. population, they had lower rates in several categories, including renal, thyroid, and urinary cancer.”
The study goes on to conclude that there are “three key insights.”
“First, U.S. Air Force fighter aviators who served between 1970 and 2004 had similar cancer outcomes as their fellow officers, with the exception of greater incidence of melanoma skin and prostate cancers, and a suggestive association with non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” according to the study. “These are the same three cancers—the only three cancers—for which the standardized incidence and mortality ratios were statistically elevated.”
Additionally, the study noted that F-100 Super Sabre aviators “may be more vulnerable than other fighter aviators to several cancers, especially of radiosensitive tissue.”
“A sensitivity analysis excluding F-100 aviators suggested that particular fighter airframes, not the occupation of fighter aviation, may be more predictive of certain cancer outcomes,” according to the study. “Further studies are recommended to elicit airframe factors that may contribute to these differences in cancer incidence and mortality. Third, galactic cosmic radiation is an unlikely de novo carcinogen in fighter aviators, but other sources of ionizing radiation have not been exonerated.”
The study concluded that its findings “do not justify wholesale changes to cancer prevention recommendations for U.S. Air Force fighter aviators,” although current and former aviators are asked to discuss the report with their flight surgeon or doctor.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.
This article was originally published earlier this year and is being reposted due to reader interest.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.