Mar 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Pentagon study reveals higher cancer rates for military pilots, ground crews

A U.S. Air Force pilot and weapons systems officer walk to their combat aircraft as they participate in a joint exercise with NATO allies in the U.K. in June 2019. Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new study from the Department of Defense revealed that military pilots and ground crews experienced higher rates of certain cancers compared to the general population.

Why it matters: Earlier military studies had not indicated that aviators were at higher risk, though the data has long been sought by those who raised alarm about the rates of cancer they observed among air and ground crew members, according to AP, which first reported the study.

  • The Department of Defense did not immediately return Axios' request for comment.

The big picture: The study examined cancer rates among nearly 900,000 air and ground crew from 1992 to 2017.

  • Overall — compared to the general population after adjusting for age, sex and race — aircrews saw a 24% higher rate of cancer of all types while ground crews saw a 3% higher rate of cancer of all types.
  • However, both air and ground crews saw "lower or similar" cancer mortality rates for all cancer types compared to the general population.

Zoom in: The study found that aircrews had 87% higher rates of melanoma and 39% higher rates of thyroid cancer. Men saw 16% higher rates of prostate cancer.

  • For ground crews, the study observed 19% higher rates of brain and nervous system cancers, 15% higher rates of thyroid cancer, and 9% higher rates of kidney or renal cancers, as well as 9% higher rates of melanoma.
  • But both air and ground crews saw lower rates of some cancers, with both seeing lower rates of lung cancer.
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