Air Force fighter pilots face an increased risk of testicular and prostate cancers, though the exact reason why can not be determined, a study finds.
The Department of the Air Force published a massive study with nearly 450,000 participants in May, finding the fighter pilots and weapons systems officers were 29 percent more likely to develop testicular cancer, 24 percent more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma and 23 percent more likely to have prostate cancer.
While the findings are not surprising, as many Air Force experts and insiders have noticed an uptick in these cases among pilots, the findings confirm a worrying trend.
Why exactly pilots are at such an increased risk can not be determined, though.
A recent study by the Air Force finds that fighter pilots and weapons system officers are up to 30% more likely to develop some forms of cancer than their peers in the branch (file photo)
‘Current and former fighter aviators are encouraged to discuss this report with their flight surgeon or primary care provider, including such topics as ultraviolet radiation protection and its impact on vitamin D, lifestyle approaches to cancer prevention, and screening for melanoma skin and prostate cancers,’ said Major Brian Huggins, an Air Force preventive medicine consultant told Defense One.
Researchers from the Air Force gathered data from 34,679 fighter pilots and weapons systems officers and 411,998 airmen that do not fly aircrafts during the 30 year period from 1970 to 2004.
The pilots also had higher rates of some cancers than the average U.S. population does.
The study found that the pilots were 13 percent more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgin lymphoma, 25 percent more likely to develop melanoma and 19 percent more likely to have prostate cancer.
Many Air Force veterans have long known about the link between being an Air Force fighter pilot and certain cancers. The study confirms their beliefs, and they are pushing for further research into the causes of these cancer disparities (file photo)
This study confirms what many have already known, that pilots face an increased risk of cancer, but it is the first step towards figuring out why.
Former fighter pilots have pushed Congress and Department of Defense to do more in order to figure out why they were developing cancer, and how to protect them from it.
‘We’re about to graduate out of the era of ‘We think this deserves a study, and we think that cancer incidence rates and mortality are higher among military aviators, but no one’s paying attention,’ Vince Alcaza, a Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association member, told Defense One.
‘That was 2017, 2018, and 2019. Here in 2021, we have this study. And the Air Force is talking about it out loud.’
Pilots that flew Vietnam-era warplanes, and specifically the F-100 Super Sabre, seemed to have the most risk.
The study found that people who flew Vietnam-era planes, and specifically the F-100 Super Sabre (pictured), were most at risk of developing cancer
The ‘why’ for the increased risk of cancer is unknown, though there are a few theories.
Some believe it could have to do with pilots being exposed to an increased amount of radiation or ultraviolet rays when flying.
It could also potentially have something to do with pilots breathing in emissions or other chemicals when they are in or around the planes.
Defense One reports that another, more in-depth, study that finds the causation of the cancer could be underway at the Department of Defense.