Flying and Cancer: Flight Attendants Have Higher Rates of Numerous Cancers

Flying and Cancer: Flight Attendants Have Higher Rates of Numerous Cancers

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, surveyed 5,366 US flight crew members and found that slightly over 15 per cent of them reported having been diagnosed with cancer.

Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds.

Cancer rates in male flight attendants were almost 50 percent higher for melanoma and about 10 percent higher for nonmelanoma skin cancers compared with men from the general population group, according to the findings.

"We report a higher prevalence of every cancer outcome we examined among cabin crew relative to the general population", the team wrote in the journal Environmental Health, "including breast, uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal, thyroid, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancers".

"This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group", she said in a statement.

One possible explanation for these increased rates is that flight attendants are exposed to a lot of known and potential carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, within their work environment, said lead study author Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Flight attendants had a 51% higher prevalence of breast cancers, more than two-fold higher prevalence of melanoma and four-fold greater prevalence of non melanoma skin cancers, compared to people not in the profession. In addition, flight attendants who worked before smoking on board was banned were exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke. 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. But time served was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women who never had children and women who had three or more children, researchers said.

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Researchers found that women and men on US cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population. They've always been aware their occupation may be linked to increased cancer risks. "This may be due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption-that is sleep deprivation and irregular schedules-both at home and work", Mordukhovich added.

Over 80 per cent of the flight attendants who took part in the study were women.

But no link was identified between job tenure and thyroid cancer or melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer - in women. The current study used information from the 2014 to 2015 survey and compared it to health outcomes from 2,729 control subjects who were matched for socioeconomic status.

Unions for flight attendants at Southwest and American airlines identified crew fatigue as a top health issue that needs to be addressed, something the pending FAA reauthorization bill could do with required minimum rest times. In Europe, flight attendants' exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation is monitored and limited more by law. Independently, NASA scientists have studied high-altitude radiation to help improve monitoring for aviation industry crew and passengers.

In all, 5,366 attendants working on domestic and worldwide flights in the United States were examined.

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