Study finds US flight attendants with above-average cancer risk

Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants Especially Among Women

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.

The Harvard University study, described as one of the largest and most comprehensive on the subject to date, found that flight attendants had a higher prevalence of each of the seven broad cancer types examined, particularly breast cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among females.

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

Other studies have found higher rates of deaths from cancer among cabin crew and higher rates of specific diseases such as chronic bronchitis and cardiac disease in flight attendants than the general population. "This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group".

"Our results are also consistent with cabin crews' occupational exposures to ionizing radiation, Circadian rhythm disruption, historical exposures to in-flight secondhand smoke, and ongoing exposures to other chemical agents, most of which are classified as confirmed or probable carcinogens in humans", the study noted.

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. Some of this increased cancer incidence may be related to the number of years flight attendants spend in their jobs (job tenure).

Nearly every commercial flight begins with a member of the cabin crew delivering a spiel to passengers about inflight safety. The analysis looked at the cancer rates in these flight attendants compared to a group of about 2,700 people who had a similar income and educational status but were not flight attendants.

Authors said the findings suggested additional efforts should be made to minimise the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation dose and organising schedules.

However, according to Reuters, flight attendants are still less likely to die of all causes (except from a plane crash) than the general population. And yet, for the attendants themselves, the job is particularly risky when considering the cancer risks. 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.

The authors couldn't link cosmic radiation or circadian rhythm disruptions to breast cancer because they couldn't isolate these two factors.

Male caregivers also have a 50% greater risk of skin melanoma (1.2% vs. 0.69% in the general male population) and about 10% increased risk for skin cancer other than melanoma (3.2% versus 2.9%). A large majority, 91 per cent of participants, were or had been cabin crew.

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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