May 19, 2019

Flight crew have higher rates of some cancers, study finds

27 June 2018, 01:03 | Silvia Roy

ALAMYFlight attendants face cancer risk according to a new study

ALAMYFlight attendants face cancer risk according to a new study

But now, a new investigation by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health appears to quash past uncertainty after finding that a sizable group of airline crew members had higher-than-normal rates of many cancer types.

"For example, they may have more UV [sun] exposure due to their opportunity to travel", said Boffetta, who was not involved in the study.

Some 3.4 percent of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared to 2.3 per cent in the general population.

Mordukhovich found higher prevalence of breast, melanoma, uterine, gastrointestinal, thyroid and cervical cancers among the flight attendants compared to the general public. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

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Male flight attendants were found to have higher rates of skin cancer - 1.2% and 3.2% for melanoma and non-melanoma cancer, respectively, compared with 0.69% and 2.9% for the adult population as a whole. Then there are the flight attendants who've been in the business for several decades, and worked aboard planes before 1988, when smoking during flights was banned. They also had more than double the risk of melanoma and more than quadruple the odds of being diagnosed with other forms of skin cancer.

This group of workers hasn't been studied much, despite having clear factors related to increased cancer risk: they are exposed to radiation from the upper atmosphere, constant disruptions in their sleep-wake cycle, and contact with cabin chemicals like pesticides and flame retardants.

Researchers found that women and men on US cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population.

Medical scientists have known about the potential health risks of this career field for some time, yet the results from the small handful of studies focused on the issue have been frustratingly contradictory, especially when it comes to cancer. They've always been aware their occupation may be linked to increased cancer risks.

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The findings suggest that additional efforts should be made to minimize the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation dose and organising schedules to minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, the researchers suggested.

The authors used 2013-14 data from the Flight Attendant Health Study, which has been tracking the health of selected flight crew since 2007. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

Although it's still not a proven link, the researchers writing in Environmental Health think US airlines could do more to protect flight attendants from the perils of radiation and abnormal sleep patterns.

"In the European Union, air crew's radiation exposures are monitored and their schedules are created to minimise their dose, especially while pregnant". "What we do know for sure is the exposures that both pilots and flight attendants have-the main one being high radiation levels because of cosmic radiation at altitude". Mordukhovich said she and her colleagues were motivated to study flight attendants because there are gaps in the research on them, and that could mean gaps in the policies meant to protect them on the job, at least in the United States.

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