VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – This week, Congresswoman Elaine Luria hosted a roundtable to meet with constituents who served as aviators in the military and were later diagnosed with cancer.
“Hearing the stories and experiences of the roundtable participants has reinforced the importance of my work on the Military Pilots Cancer Incidence Study Act,” said Congresswoman Luria. “As a veteran myself, I know that we are all connected, and we all likely know people who have experienced cancer after serving as aviators in our Armed Forces. I hope this study will spur the Department of Defense to start more aggressively screening for cancer and at younger ages for populations who are more at risk because of radiation exposure."
Participants of the roundtable highlighted their experience as well as a shared commitment to identifying the scope of cancer incidence in military aviators:
"When my husband was finally diagnosed with Glioblastoma, we thankfully had all the treatment covered by TRICARE and private insurance,” said Kristine Le Mar, who lost her husband to cancer. “I have been able to track down 4 other men who had glioblastomas who flew F4s at Moody."
"In addition to myself, we had an entire crew’s-wroth of guys who succumbed to cancers in their early 40s and late 30s,” said Pete Donnelly, COL, USAF (ret). “My best friend died of glioblastoma within a year, and my other colleagues died of other various cancers."
"During a routine flight physical medical exam, the flight surgeon discovered a ridge, which led to a diagnosis of prostate cancer,” said Dr. Michael Hoyes, Col, USAF (ret).
“I flew F-4’s, and most of my time was in F-16 deployments to the Middle East, where I did a lot of work with radars, electronic warfare pods, and nuclear ops,” said Dr. Joe Shirey, Col, USAF (ret). “It was when I was at War College in 1998 when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma...My experience since being diagnosed in 1998 is that every 2-3 years, the cancer comes back."
"After graduating from the Air Force Academy, I went to pilot training and then stayed as a first assignment instructor pilot,” said Dave McFaddin, Col, USAF (ret). “I was in the cockpit for a little over half of my 29 years of service and had about 3,000 flying hours. I’ve experienced prostate and kidney cancer."
Last summer, McClatchy reported on a new Air Force study about the risk of prostate cancers among fighter pilots. The study found that pilots have greater environmental exposure to ultraviolet and ionizing radiation. New VHA data also showed that rates of reported cases of prostate cancer among veterans using the VA health care system has risen almost 16% since fiscal year 2000 across all services.
Unfortunately, the data from the Air Force Study was not comprehensive. It did not cover all the services, nor did it explore other cancers that can be linked to radiation exposure in cockpits or at high altitudes.
The Military Pilot Cancer Incidence Study Act would require DOD to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study incidence and mortality rates of pilots from all services. This study would break down the data by age, gender, type of aircraft flown, and military service to analyze correlations between cockpit radiation exposure and cancer rates. It will also determine the appropriate age to begin screening pilots as young as 30 for different forms of cancer.