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Flight Crews at Double Risk of Developing Skin Cancers

Photo: Airbus

A Simple Skin Cancer

Most people think of Melanoma as simply skin cancer. A mole you have removed and never think about again. We were actually those people back in 2001. My husband had a mole removed from his chest that came back as Stage 1 Melanoma. In 2001, there was no additional treatment needed for Stage 1.

Since Tommy was a pilot, the FAA required him to get brain scans and chest x-rays for five years. After that point, he was considered cured, and we never gave that pesky mole much thought.  

Fast forward to late December 2019. For a few weeks, Tommy had been showing some cognitive challenges. I slowly started to notice I was finishing his sentences as he could not do so. He was having trouble following our conversations, and I found myself asking him to please focus on what I was saying. At first, this was not alarming. As we all know, pilots can be good at tuning others out when they want to.

However, it continued and moved past not just focusing. I could tell something was just not right. I encouraged (he would say nagged) my husband to seek medical attention. He refused because he was worried about the FAA pulling his medical. He told me, “I can’t go in saying I am having cognitive challenges. I will never fly again.”

My husband worked hard to become a pilot, putting himself through flight school, flying canceled checks, and taking any corporate job he could get to build hours. As an aviator with more than 30 years of experience, he was not going to give that up easily. 

The final straw came as we went to Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon, and Tommy could not park the truck. I burst into tears and begged him to go to the hospital. As a  two-time cancer survivor myself, my mind always went to the worst-case scenario so I  was terrified. As we walked through the hospital parking lot, Tommy silently grabbed my hand.

Photo by Kelly Lacy on

DALLAS – According to research published by the US NLM and ARPANSA, airline pilots and cabin staff had nearly twice the risk of Melanoma and other skin cancers as the general population, with pilots having a higher risk of dying from Melanoma.

As we kickstart Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Airways shares with our readers the personal story of Elise S. May, an aviation safety professional, and her husband, a pilot for a major US carrier, to raise awareness of this health issue among flight crews and aviation enthusiasts.

Photo: Airbus

A Simple Skin Cancer

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Source:: “Airways Magazine”

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