Air Force investigating whether fighter pilots are at increased risk of prostate cancer

U.S. Air Force F-16 Viper pilots assigned to the 20th Operations Group fly their aircraft in formation over Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, June 27, 2019. The pilots participated in a mass aircraft dispersal exercise which consisted of launching, flying and recovering approximately 60 F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

The US Air Force has begun investigating whether or not there is a definitive correlation between prostate cancer and flying fighter jets.

The study was requested by Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein in 2018, after he received requests from several veteran-related organizations to look into the matter.

Currently, the study is focusing on whether or not prolonged radiation exposure in the cramped fighter cockpits is responsible for a rise in prostate cancer cases amongst veteran fighter jocks.

“Pilots have greater environmental exposure to ultraviolet and ionizing radiation,” stated the study, performed by the 711th Human Performance Wing. “[Fighter pilots] have unique intra-cockpit exposures to non-ionizing radiation.”

While the USAF determined that fighter pilots are no more susceptible to prostate cancer than any other Airman, the branch also admitted their review was rather limited.

“Many of the limitations affecting the present study concerned data access and data quality,” the study read. “Capture of cancer cases may have been incomplete.”

According to McClatchy, a review by Veteran’s Health Administration and a publisher revealed 977 incidents of different types of cancer amongst a test group of 4,949 Air Force fighter pilots and 83,483 non-fighter pilot Air Force officers, commissioned between 1986 and December 2006.

Only two cases of prostate cancer were found amongst pilots who flew fighters, though the USAF notes that the smaller community might skew numbers.

Another reason that using VA system statistics is potentially ineffective is because fighter pilots leaving the military often fly for airlines or work in corporations, which tend to come with excellent health insurance as part of the employment package. As such, the cases of cancer that may exist might not be documented by the VA.

The USAF is “considering further studies” at this time.

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