The United States Air Force has finalized the terms of a groundbreaking study sought by former fighter pilots in order to determine whether military aviators are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
Retired Air Force fighter pilots have pressed the service for more than a year to look at the number of aviators who have either died from, or are fighting various types of cancers, and to look for potential causes.
Late in 2019 the Air Force announced that it would conduct a first-of-its-kind study of all cancers among its former pilots, a review that may be replicated by the Navy for its aviators depending on what the results reveal.
In newly-released details, the Air Force said it had finalized the design for the study and was committed to reviewing all of its pilots dating back to 1970, which would capture medical histories of pilots who flew earlier versions of military jets that carried more powerful radars in the cockpits.
Many of the pilots have suspected that cockpit radiation generated by those radars may be linked to their cancers.
The new study will also compare former pilots’ cancer rates to cancer rates among the general population. Other previous military cancer studies had focused on internal comparisons between active duty personnel, such as comparing active duty ground crew to active duty pilots. Those studies had not found higher rates.
In October in an exclusive investigation, “Stricken” it was reported that the rates of treatment at VA health care centers for many types of cancers rose sharply over the last two decades of war. When researchers looked across all services, treatment rates for urinary cancers — which include bladder, ureter and kidney cancers — have jumped 61 percent from fiscal year 2000 to 2018. Along with those findings, prostate cancer treatment rates have risen 23 percent. The Marine Corps recorded the sharpest increase, with a 98 percent jump in urinary cancer treatments.
An earlier investigation found that since fiscal year 2000, the rate of treatment for Air Force prostate cancers at Veterans Affairs health care facilities had increased 44 percent and urinary cancer treatment rates including kidney, bladder and ureter cancers, had increased 80 percent.
A small group of former Air Force aviators from the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which represents about 3,700 veterans who flew all types of aircraft, worked behind the scenes with the Air Force surgeon general to convince the service to look deeper into the issue.
The expanded scope will also use multiple military medical databases, including the Defense Department’s Automated Central Tumor Registry and Air Force Mortality Registry.