BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) --
Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, approved a comprehensive study design by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine to conduct a formal assessment that addresses specific cancer concerns raised by missile community members across related career fields and examines the possibility of clusters of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at intercontinental ballistic missile bases.
"Air Force Global Strike Command and our Air Force takes the responsibility to protect Airman and Guardians incredibly seriously, and their safety and health continues to be my priority,” Bussiere said. “We also continue to be committed to remaining transparent during this process and we pledge to continue to maintain an open dialogue with members, their families and stakeholders throughout this process.”
The study will have two teams and be divided into multiple pieces allowing for a better focus on specific needs, prioritization of the study focuses, and enables the best use of resources and time.
“Both parts of the study will follow a phased approach,” said Col. Tony Woodard, USAFSAM commander. “Phase 1 is separated into three parts due to requests from different sources that house potential case identification data. Each of these sources is owned by different agencies that will have variable processing times.”
This study design affords the shortest overall timeline while maximizing relevant information. This also ensures a comprehensive look across multiple Air Force Specialty Codes, locations and possible additional cancers.
“Once each study is completed, each team will then move to the next study in the sequence,” Woodard said. “Some data overlap will occur potentially saving time with future study completion.”
It is still too early to tell exactly how long the study will take, according to Col. Lee D. Williames, AFGSC surgeon general. He said phase 1 will include Department of Defense medical data, analyzed DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs Cancer Registry data/VA medical data. Phase 2 includes investigating mortality data and evaluate cancer registries.
In addition, there are different data sources for study phases. Data will be requested simultaneously, but analysis for each can be performed independently of each other, Woodard said.
Phase 2 of the study will be conducted if Phase 1 does not show an elevation in cancer incidence or mortality risk, Woodard said.
“If at any point an elevation in either cancer incidence or cancer mortality above expected rates is noted, further phase progression will end, leadership will be notified, and the study team will move to the next study,” Woodard said.
Woodard also noted the team charged with this extraordinarily important responsibility is a highly experienced team that previously completed the USAFSAM’s Fighter Aviator Cancer Study. In addition, he highlighted the existing synergy available to the team as USAFSAM already maintains access to Defense Health Agency and Air Force's Personnel Center databases, saving significant request processing time that could be accrued in working with outside agencies.
“Our top-notch professionals are uniquely positioned within the DoD and DHA enterprise to conduct this analysis efficiently and effectively,” Woodard said, noting USAFSAM also has several critical pre-built relationships with outside partners who can assist in this vital effort including the Air Force Personnel Center, the Defense Health Agency Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division, the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As we move through the various phases of assessment and review, we will continue to provide updates, including pertinent information, as and when such information is discovered or identified,” Bussiere said. “While we continue to work through this process, service members, their family members and former service members who may have concerns or questions are encouraged to speak with their healthcare providers."
If any Airman or Guardian – past or present, or family member has a question or concern, they are encouraged to speak to their medical provider or they can submit their question through the AFGSC official website or via the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General here.
In addition, a website specific to this issue is available as a resource here.
“It is my personal pledge to all Strikers, Airmen, Guardians and family members – past and present – to remain transparent throughout this process and we will continue to maintain an open dialogue,” Bussiere said. “This is my priority.”