(HealthDay News) — Military pilots and the ground crews who fuel and maintain their aircraft have higher rates of certain types of cancer, a new study shows. Congress required the study as part of the defense bill in 2021, the Associated Press reported.
The Pentagon researched cancer cases in nearly 900,000 military members who served between 1992 and 2017, comparing them to the general US population. The study “proves that it’s well past time for leaders and policy makers to move from skepticism to belief and active assistance,” retired Air Force Col. Vince Alcazar, a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, told the AP.
Overall, the study showed that air crews had a 24% higher rate of all types of cancer and ground crews had a 3% higher rate of all types of cancer, compared with the general population.
Rates of some specific cancers were even higher. Air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer. Male air crew members had a 16% higher rate of prostate cancer, while women had a 16% higher rate of breast cancer.
Ground crews had a 19% higher rate of brain and nervous system cancers. They also had a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer and 9% higher rate of kidney cancers. Female ground crew members had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer.
The actual number of cases may be even higher because of gaps in the data, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon noted the 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, smoking, or alcohol use.
The study also showed that some cancer rates went down for these categories of service members, including lower rates of lung cancer for both ground and air crews and lower rates of bladder and colon cancer for air crews.