Flight attendants exposed to greater risk of cancers

Flight attendants exposed to greater risk of cancers

The study, one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses of cancer among cabin crew members conducted to date, is the first to show that flight attendants in the USA also have a higher rate of non-melanoma skin cancer than the general population.

US flight attendants are having a higher rate of developing various cancers than the general population, a study showed.

Dr Irina Mordukhovich, one of the report's authors, said: "Consistent with previous studies, we report a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crew relative to the general population".

The flight-crew rate was 0.15% compared with 0.13% for uterine cancer; 1.0% compared with 0.70% for cervical cancer; 0.47% compared with 0.27% for stomach or colon cancer; and 0.67% compared with 0.56% for thyroid cancer.

In a study published Monday in the journal Environmental Health, researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that flight attendants were more likely to have cancer than the general population. These data were then compared with the data received from a survey done on a group of people not belonging to the airline occupation.

As the findings shows that prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers was high among flight attendants compared to the general population, the researchers suggest that measures such as monitoring the radiation doses and organising a proper work routine should be taken to minimise cancer causing risk among the cabin crew.

"Having fewer children and having children later in life are known risk factors for breast cancer", Pinkerton, who wasn't involved in the current study, said by email.

Any current or former United States flight attendant was eligible to participate in the study, with the vast majority (91%) now employed in a cabin crew role.

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Cancer rates amongst the cabin crew were compared with those reported by around 5,000 US residents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Researchers also couldn't say whether tumors developed before or after participants started working as flight attendants.

Length of service did not appear to be a factor with breast cancer, thyroid cancer or melanoma in all women.

Even when flight attendants reported having stereotypically good health, diet, and exercise regimens, the likelihood that they would be stricken with certain cancers was still higher than the other survey respondents.

The lead author of that study, Dr. Lynne Pinkerton of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, didn't rule out the possibility that altitude-related radiation exposure or disrupted sleep cycles might be connected to cancer.

Further complicating matters is that flight attendants in the USA don't have the same occupational protections as their counterparts in the European Union. Cabin crew members are also regularly exposed to more UV radiation than the general population, which can make these workers more vulnerable to skin cancers, Mordukhovich said. The sample group was more than 80 percent female and had an average tenure of 20 years, with 91 percent actively employed.

Although the cancer risks for frequent flyers have not yet been studied, there is no reason to suspect these people would not have similar risks as those faced by cabin crews, Mordukhovich said.

The study was only based on the health impact the cabin crew had due to their profession and not on the airline passengers.

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