Pentagon study finds higher cancer rates in military pilots, ground crews

A recent study by the United States Department of Defense has shown that military pilots and ground crews experienced significantly higher rates of certain types of cancer compared to the general population.

The study, released in February 2023, examined cancer rates among nearly 900,000 air and ground crew from 1992 to 2017. The objective was to see if there is a higher incidence of cancers occurring for military aviators and aviation support personnel compared to similar age groups in the general population.

In general, the findings are as follows:

Air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer, while 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 showed that 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, while women had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. The overall rate for cancers of all types was 3% higher.

The study showed, however, that both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer, and air crews also had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers.

The study was required by the US Congress in the 2021 defense bill. It was conducted using the database of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute. 

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