January 20, 2019

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

28 June 2018, 08:45 | Randall Craig

ALAMYFlight attendants face cancer risk according to a new study

ALAMYFlight attendants face cancer risk according to a new study

Researchers found that flight attendants have higher rates of several forms of cancer particularly breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer. The most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic". Having at least three children or none at all appears to be a risk factor for breast cancer in female flight attendants.

Over 5,300 USA -based flight attendants took part in the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study between 2014-2015, although the results have only just been published. In general, though, airplane cabin crews are exposed more regularly to ultra-violet cosmic radiation than the average person-at higher altitudes, cosmic radiation goes through less atmospheric filtering. They are also exposed to higher levels of cosmic ionizing radiation; the World Health Organization says this is a cancer risk.

"But we were surprised to replicate a recent finding that exposure to work as a flight attendant was related to breast cancer exclusively among women with three or more children", she said.

The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health research was one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among the group to date.

Mordukhovich said that aside from policy, crew members can take certain precautions such as wearing sunscreen on the aircraft to protect from UV rays, maintaining healthy and consistent sleep practices on their days off, as well as eating a healthy diet and exercising.

Female flight attendants had a higher prevalence of every cancer, especially breast cancer and skin cancer - including melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer) and other non-melanoma types of skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell.

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.

Other studies have linked shift work and disrupted circadian clocks to higher risk of breast and prostate cancers, possibly due to a reduced ability of DNA to fix itself and the way circadian rhythm processes may be connected to immune function. "Future longitudinal studies should evaluate associations between specific exposures and cancers among cabin crew", they wrote.

The survey used validated questions from the Job Content Questionnaire and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Participants had an average age of 51 and had been in the profession for just over 20 years. They also observed that women cabin crew members have an increased risk of developing breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma cancer. The authors also caution that health outcomes were based on self-reported data that could not be validated through medical records due to the associated scope and cost.

And at the end of last year, the London Economic also spoke to Dr Astrid Heutelbeck who has spent the past few years attending to patients suffering pulmonary, neurological and cerebral symptoms after flights with suspected cabin air contamination at the University of Gottingen, Germany.

Some 3.4% of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared with 2.3% in the general population.

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