CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – A recently released study by the Pentagon found that military members who serve in specific positions are at a higher risk of developing cancer than the general public. 

The study published early Monday found that pilots and ground crews can develop melanoma and thyroid cancer, among other cancers, due to their environment. 

Researchers looked at nearly 900,000 air and ground crews served between 1992 and 2017 for the study. 

According to the research:

“Aircrew had an 87 percent higher rate of melanoma, 39 percent higher rate of thyroid cancer, 16 percent higher rate of prostate cancer, and a 24 percent higher rate of cancer for all sites. 

Ground crew members had higher incidence of cancers of brain and nervous system (by 19 percent), thyroid (by 15 percent), melanoma (by 9 percent), kidney and renal pelvis (by 9 percent), and of all sites (by 3 percent). 

However, aircrew and ground crew both had lower or similar cancer mortality rates for all cancer types when compared to the U.S. population.” 

You can read the full report here.

Dr. Randall Gehle, with W.G. (Bill) Hefner Salisbury Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the news isn’t surprising.

“For the pilots, it’s because of the decreased protection of the ozone layer,” he explained of the pilot’s increased risks. “As you’re at altitude, you have you have a dramatically increased exposure to ionizing radiation at altitude because you’ve lost all of the protective effects of ozone.” 

He explained that the ground crew’s risk is linked to the toxic fumes they breathe on-site. 

“The toxic exposures are many of all the all of the aviation fuels, the hydrocarbons, those have an effect,” Dr. Gehle said. “And then any exposure to any radiation as far as the munitions.”

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The news comes when veteran affairs offices and medical centers across the country have begun to deal with three generations of veteran cancer patients.

The first includes Vietnam veterans exposed to orange gas, the second contains individuals exposed while on Camp LeJeune, and the third is those exposed to burn pits during the Gulf War.

The resources to tackle these three waves and potentially address the new one are limited.

“Every cancer patient that needs an x-ray therapy has to be sent out of the community,” Dr. Gehle said. “We do have infusion centers, but we’re giving limited chemo. So a fair amount of our chemo at the far sites is sent out because it’s not comfortable to travel when you’re undergoing chemotherapy.”

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He has also seen an increase in breast cancer diagnoses in female servicemembers.

He hopes the report will open the door to servicemembers becoming more open in disclosing information during their health screenings.

“This will help veterans self-identify that they’ve had an exposure,” he said. “A veteran who might not have thought about it when I ask him those questions about toxic exposures when I’ll say, well, now that you mention it, yeah, I saw that report, and I spent 275 hours in the air, and I’m a little worried about that.”