Press Releases

Washington—A groundbreaking Air Force study released earlier this year indicates fighter aviators and crew members are much more likely to get cancer compared to other Air Force officers or the general population. These results add urgency to a major study directed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to investigate the prevalence of cancer among all U.S. military aviators and service members who support flight operations.

“The results of the Air Force study, while limited in scope, are striking and provide further evidence of the need for a careful study and evaluation of all military flight and ground crews across all services to understand why so many are getting cancer and, importantly, how to prevent it,” said Feinstein, whose provision to conduct an all-services study of military aviators and their cancer history was enacted as part of last year’s defense authorization bill.

“We know all too well the risks and sacrifices our military and their families make in service to the nation. They don’t need the added worry that they’re more likely to get cancer because they fly or work with aircraft. The Defense Department needs to prioritize and complete the larger study carefully but quickly so that any risks can be mitigated as soon as possible.”

The Air Force study, dated May 2021, found that Air Force fighter aviators and crew members were far more likely to get cancer than other Air Force officers: 29 percent more likely to get testicular cancer, 24 percent more likely to get melanoma and 23 percent more likely to get prostate cancer. The results were similarly concerning when comparing fighter aviators to the general population.

Coverage of the report last month by Defense One noted, “The study is the first confirmation of a connection long suspected by fighter aviators who saw their peers contracting some cancers at concerning rates.” This follows reporting on military cancer rates by McClatchy in 2019 that rang alarm bells on these so-called cancer clusters.

The Feinstein provision that passed in January 2021 as part of the defense authorization bill directs the Department of Defense to conduct a major study comparing cancer prevalence among service members involved with fixed-wing flight operations and logistics to the general population. If those service members show a higher rate of cancer, a more detailed follow-on study will examine risk and mitigation factors including:

  • Exposure to carcinogenic materials;
  • Radiation exposure;
  • Specific duties and locations; and
  • Cancer screening recommendations.

The bill instructed that the initial report be completed and presented to Congress by the end of 2021. The Defense Department now says that deadline is likely to be delayed until May 2022.

“I hope the Defense Department uses the results of the Air Force study completed in May not only to inform its work on this incredibly important issue, but also to prioritize this issue as much as possible,” said Feinstein. “It will save lives.”