Preliminary results show lower-than-expected cancer rates among Air Force nuclear missile personnel

Last updated: March 14, 2024, 03:01 IST

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The Air Force is reporting the first data on cancer diagnoses in soldiers who worked with nuclear missiles, and while the data is only about 25% complete, the service says the numbers are lower than they expected.

Washington: The Air Force is reporting the first data on cancer diagnoses in soldiers who worked with nuclear missiles, and while the data is only 25% complete, the service says the numbers are lower than they expected.

The Air Force said so far it has identified 23 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, in the first phase of the cancer review among service members who operate, maintain or operate silo-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. stands by.

To identify those cases, the Air Force looked at all missile community personnel who used the Military Health Care System, or TRICARE, from 2001 to 2021, she said. The population is about 84,000 people and includes any Which is operated, maintained, secured or otherwise supported. Air Force nuclear mission.

About 8,000 within that community worked as missileers, young men and women who lived underground in launch control capsules for 24 to 48 hours at a time – firing silo-based Minuteman missiles when ordered by the President. Are ready for.

The Air Force review of cancer among service members assigned to its nuclear missile missions was prompted by a January 2023 report that nine missile launch officers serving at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. .

The 23 cases identified so far are lower than what would be expected over a 20-year time frame, compared to similar incidence rates in the U.S. general population, the Air Force said. Based on National Cancer Institute surveillance, epidemiology and end results data on the incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma for the same time frame, Air Force researchers expect to find about 84,000 NHL cases in the 80-person missile community .

It also did not identify how many of those 23 cases were found among the smaller missileer population versus the larger group of service members supporting the nuclear mission.

The Air Force has emphasized that it still does not have complete data. The study did not yet include data from state cancer registries and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which limited the numbers reported. The military health care system only serves active duty personnel, their dependents, and eligible retirees, meaning service members who left the military before completing 20 years of service but were diagnosed after they left However, they cannot be included in these numbers.

The nuclear missile community has formed an advocacy group to respond to the cancer, named the Torchlight Initiative, and has found hundreds of cases of NHL among its ranks.

Missile manufacturers have raised concerns for years about the underground capsules in which they operate. The capsules were dug up in the 1960s to outdated environmental standards and were exposed to toxins. An Associated Press investigation in December found that despite official Air Force responses from 2001 to 2005 that the capsules were safe, environmental records showed exposure to asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs and other cancer risks in the underground capsules. were reported regularly.

The Air Force is continuing its review.

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – The Associated Press)