Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates

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Flight attendants had a higher prevalence of every cancer that was examined, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer among women, echoing multiple US and European studies. The new findings are based on a 2014-2015 survey of 5,366 USA flight attendants in which they were asked about self-reported health outcomes and symptoms, work experience, personal characteristics, and aviation employment history.

"This is striking given the low rates of being overweight and smoking in this occupational group".

If you've even sat in the wrong spot, you're more likely to get sick.

The researchers, led by Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, then compared the responses to those from a matched group of people not in the airline profession from an ongoing national health survey. 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.


The Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS), begun in 2007, addresses some of the gaps in understanding health risks among flight attendants. In women, the risk of skin cancer other than melanoma increases for every additional five-year flying experience.

Compared to the other adults, flight attendants were 51 percent more likely to develop breast cancer. "Combine that with this disruption from the job, especially for those who fly internationally, this may be an indication that the circadian rhythm disruption is having an impact". Job tenure didn't have any visible correlation with thyroid cancer or melanoma, however those who worked in planes before smoking was banned in 1998 reported higher rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

"In the European Union, air crew's radiation exposures are monitored and their schedules are created to minimize their dose, especially while pregnant".

USA flight attendants may be more likely than other Americans to develop several types of cancer including tumors of the breast, uterus, cervix, thyroid, and skin, new research suggests. In addition, melanoma rates were more than two times higher and nonmelanoma skin cancer rates were about four times higher in female flight attendants compared with women from the general population.


Dr. Mordukhovich knows of no studies about cancer risk in frequent fliers, but they are at risk of being exposed to ionizing radiation and possible shifts in their sleep-wake cycles. "Future longitudinal studies should evaluate associations between specific exposures and cancers among cabin crew", they wrote.

At high altitudes, where the air is thinner and provides less of a shield, passengers and crew can be exposed to between 100 and 300 times the cosmic radiation dose they receive at sea level.

One of the most unusual risks is cosmic ionizing radiation (radiation from outer space that penetrates airplanes).

The researchers found that in female flight attendants, the rates of breast cancer were about 50 percent higher than in women from the general population.


PPG Aerospace recently unveiled a new transparency film that can be applied to cockpit and cabin windows to prevent harmful UVA, UVB, and HEVBLUE rays from entering the aircraft.

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