Higher cancer rates among Military pilots and ground crews

| March 25, 2023


A Pentagon study revealed higher cancer rates among military pilots and ground crews when compared to the general population. The study was conducted on those who performed these duties from 1992 through 2017. Reported cancers include melanoma, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. However, lower rates of lung cancer, bladder cancer, and colon cancers were found among this group when compared to the general population.

From military.com:

Isolating potential causes is difficult, and the Pentagon was careful to note that this 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.

But aviation crews have long asked for the Pentagon to look closely at some of the environmental factors they are exposed to, such as jet fuels and solvents used to clean and maintain jet parts, sensors and their power sources in aircraft nose cones, and the massive radar systems on the decks of the ships they land on.

When Navy Capt. Jim Seaman would come home from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier, his gear would reek of jet fuel, his widow Betty Seaman said. The A-6 Intruder pilot died in 2018 at age 61 of lung cancer. Betty Seaman still has his gear stored and it still smells of fuel, “which I love,” she said.

She and others wonder if there’s a link. She said crews would talk about how even the ship’s water systems would smell of fuel.

She said she and others have mixed feelings about finally seeing in data what they have suspected for years about the aviation cancers. But “it has the potential to do a lot of good as far as early communication, early detection,” she said.

The study found that when crew members were diagnosed with cancer, they were more likely to survive than members of the general population, which the study suggested was because they were diagnosed earlier due to regular required medical checkups and were more likely to be in better health because of their military fitness requirements.

Military.com has the article here and the Department of Defense study could be accessed at this link.

Category: Air Force, Army, Marines, Military issues, Navy

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Pilots make.sense, not sure about ground crews. Those who travel closer to the sun will burn. Radiation exposure for pilots and flight crews is a real thing, there are dozens of studies out there on this. It’s part of the price of admission.


Thousands of flight hours also adversely affects one’s decision making process and can lead to becoming an Admin on a MilBlog somewhere.
You have been warned.


and if I may add, a pathological aversion to the best Navel {sic} Aviation movie, nay, The Greatest Movie of All Timez!

For you, the pattern in my heart is never full!

Top Gun Dildont.gif
Last edited 2 months ago by Roh-Dog

Bad -Dog. Bad! Back in your crate.


An incredible documentary.


Another doggie heard from.



That’s my OTHER dog. And stop with the negative waves!


If I read the paper right, the only statistically significant cancer rate increases between flight crews and ground crews/general population were of melanoma and of thyroid cancer. Both, as I recall, radiation hazards.

Bill R.

I worked F-4’s and F-16’s. Every liquid in both of those airframes is a carcinogen. The F-16 also has H-70 rocket fuel for it’s Emergency Power Unit. While Fuel Shop were the ones getting hazardous duty pay for it, it was the ground crews that always seemed to get douched by it. Additionally, I saw one of my troops at Kunsan get zapped for about 15 minutes from an F-16 radar which was on even though on the ground it is supposed to be in standby. I wonder how many times that happened over the years. Don’t know what eventually happened to my troop.


I was involved in flight testing during my operational career and in the early 90s was testing an ESM/ELINT system that was ostensibly a main beam detection system. During some testing involving Luftwaffe F-4F Phantom II. We noted something of interest. We were having no problems detecting and identiying the AI radar in the F-4F when it was flying away from our test vehicle well beyonf the engagement range of the F-4F. Conclusion was it had a very large (powerful) backlobe tha we were detecting. Guess who was sitting in the backlobe of that same radar a couple feet away vice the several dozens of miles away of our system under test.

I’d really like to see data specific to the SR-71, U-2 for exposure to cosmic radiation at high altitude as well as the E-2 Hawkeye and E-3 AWACS for exposure to high power onboard emitters.


POL, more cosmic radiation exposure, being next to an operating radar all day, etc. Kinda expected, if one thinks about it.


I hope those afflicted get proper care and the machine finds a way to mitigate the risks for the next generations.

Thank you to those who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way for our American values.

Bill R.

This came out several years ago but it mostly talked about pilots. It’s good to see them talking about maintainers, too. I was a maintainer for 20 years and I have a shitload of medical issues as do many of my friends. Fortunately, cancer is not one of my troubles, yet. I was talking with the former wing king at Selfridge ANGB not long ago and he knows quite a few former pilots who are now sick. I hope the government does right by these people.

pookysgirl, WC wife

If you talk to the VA about what you did in the service and how you were exposed to radiation, there’s a good chance they’ll put it on your file and treat you as if you were exposed. Which was good in my husband’s case, since the USAF “lost” the dosimeters and declared his equipment that you could detect with a Geiger counter half a mile away wasn’t radioactive enough to cause alarm. (Great job, guys!)

A Proud Infidel®™

Something that warrants a good looking into, my thought is that the Government types will probably stonewall them like they did to our Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange.