This came over the mil email net and I wanted to share it for those who might be interested…
Increased cancer risks in military aviators. I normally do not post things on-line or to various groups, but I believe the info below is something of interest to those of us who flew Tomcats/Fighters.
“The Air Force has begun to look at whether there’s increased risk for prostate cancer among its fighter pilots. A new investigation by McClatchy shows just how serious the problem may be.
The fighter pilot study was requested by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein after he was contacted by concerned veterans service organizations in 2018, according to the report obtained by McClatchy.”
Many of you have seen the articles written by Tara Copp of McClatchy News as they have appeared in Defense News, the Early Bird and in the Virginia Pilot, as well as other publications. Below are some links to her first two articles as well as a link to the referenced Air Force Study.
I have been battling esophageal cancer for the last 7½ years, in addition to being treated for brain cancer in 2003. All of this led me to wonder if there was anything in my service background that could have caused these problems particularly after discovering several close friends had also battled various cancers. I have been working with Tara for about the last 7 months attempting to uncover any links between Naval Aviation and an increased incidence of cancer and I believe I have found some possible correlations possibly to the aircraft weapons systems and the physical environment of the flight deck.
The Air Force Study was requested by a group of former Air Force F-15 pilots who believe there is an increased incidence in prostate cancer across their retired community. They requested Gen Goldfein conduct the Study, which unfortunately I feel was completely irrelevant. It was supposed to be a joint service effort but instead only included Air Force active duty personnel. They looked at two groups – fighter pilots (FP) and non-fighter pilots (non-FP) with an average age of 41. According to their statistics they found no difference in the incidence of cancers across the two groups. I would encourage you to read the Study yourself and form your own conclusions.
I believe there are several problems with the Study they conducted. First, while the two groups had similar cancer incident rates both groups were still 7 times higher than the cancer incident rates for the same age group according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER) data. Second, the question has no bearing on those of who have completed their flying careers – I would like to know if there is there an increased incidence of aggressive cancers in former fighter pilots sooner than it appears in the general population?
In my research I determined there needed to be some boundaries on the data I was collecting. It would be virtually impossible for me to identify all former F-14 pilots/RIO’s. Since most of the individuals I knew were all former F-14 squadron commanders I used that parameter as my initial boundary. Using the Change of Command announcements listed in past issues of Naval Aviation News I was able to determine there are approximately 600 Squadron Commanding Officers from the F-14, F-4, A-7, A-6, F/A-18, EA-6B and E-2 communities from 1985 through 2001, with 134 of those from the F-14 community. I know of 10 individuals from this community grouping who have had cancer. My best estimate is the average age at diagnosis is about 60 years old or 15-20 years after their last flight. And while this is a small sample size it is still at a rate of 7 times the general population according the SEER data.
To be very clear I am extremely concerned with the privacy issues associated with a cancer diagnosis and I will ensure the names of anyone who has battled or is battling cancer is never released to anyone. But I am still trying to expand my data base – if you do happen to know of someone within the aviation communities listed above please let me know off-line.
The obvious question people ask me is “why are you doing this”? Cancer has completely changed my life and I have found myself asking “why did this happen to me”? There is no history of cancer in my family, I do not fit the demographics for esophageal cancer (never been a smoker) and I have led a lifestyle healthier than most. I have wanted to fly fighters from an aircraft carrier for as long as I can remember – even if you would have told me I would have a greater chance of developing cancer I would have still pursued my dream. I have experienced the most challenging and exciting aviation experiences while providing me with the privilege of serving and developing friendships with the absolute finest individuals this country has ever produced.
You cannot convince me the Air Force fighter community was exposed to more hazardous materials than we were. The F-14 radar was more powerful than their radars/weapons systems and the flight deck and aircraft carrier – where we lived and worked for months at a time – was essentially a petri dish of hazardous and toxic materials. But I am not convinced the Navy comprehended what it did not know at the time – what would be the long-term effects of these exposures? Cancer develops over time, sometimes in a few years sometimes over 15-20 years.
I would like to see DoD, the Navy and the VA approach this issue as they have the Agent Orange, Burn Pit and military base water contamination issues. The primary purpose would be to inform all the potentially effected individuals to encourage cancer screening early and often, either through the VA or private health care services. They should agree to research and track the health of Naval Aviators 15-20 years after the end of their flying careers to determine if there is an increase in the incidence of aggressive cancers as compared to the general population; investigate as to if there is an increased incidence rate of aggressive cancers in our enlisted men and women who worked the flight deck (squadron maintenance personnel and members of the Air Department); begin to track the health of our female fighter pilots to determine if they are developing aggressive cancers sooner than the similar age group in the general population. I do not believe the names of all former F-14 pilots and RIO’s is archived anywhere – it will only be through the development of surveys that are posted to various web sites along with the development of a comprehensive web-enabled database the respects privacy issues that this information will be properly disseminated.
If you would like to contact me with comments or suggestions my email is above. Please do not post any names to the Facebook group and feel free to pass this info along to others as you see fit.
Tom “Boot” Hill, former CO/XO VF-143, 1992-1994
If you need to reach out to him, or have information, contact me and I will provide his email to you.