Exposure to radiation, carcinogens puts flight attendants at high risk of cancer

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

Which cancer risks are increased in flight attendants?

It was one of the most extensive analyses of its kind and scientists described the findings as particularly alarming owing to their healthy lifestyles.

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.

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.

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

Cancer Research UK has warned people working in these occupations should be fully aware of the potential risks.

Flight attendants had higher rates of all cancers investigated.

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.

Not having children is a known risk factor for the disease in women, but the researchers were surprised to see increased rates in those with multiple kids.

"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.

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Among female flight attendants, the rate of breast cancer was 50% higher when compared to the general population.

A study of more than 5,000 US flight attendants has shown they have higher rates of certain cancers than the general public.

Due to regular exposure to carcinogens, disrupted sleep cycles and possible chemical contaminants, flight attendants may be at a higher risk of developing several forms of cancer than others, finds a new research. A large majority, 91 per cent of participants, were or had been cabin crew.

In the new study, the researchers looked at data from more than 5,300 flight attendants from different airlines who completed an online survey as part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study. On average, attendants were 51 years old and had been working in the profession for just over 20 years.

This was compared to data from 23,729 men and women with similar economic status who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.

Air cabin crews receive the highest yearly dose of ionizing radiation on the job of all USA workers, she added.

While European regulators require monitoring of aircrews' radiation exposure and changes to their work schedules if it exceeds certain thresholds, no such rules exist in the U.S.

Long-haul trips which disrupt the body clock and affect hormone levels are additional risks.

While cosmic radiation originates in outer space, small amounts reach the earth, and greater chances of exposure occur at higher altitudes.

Although it's still not a proven link, the researchers writing in Environmental Health think US airlines could do more to protect flight attendants from the perils of radiation and abnormal sleep patterns. That exposure may not be concerning for people taking individual flights, but for people whose jobs involve flying, that risk may have a negative effect on their health, as the study results suggest.

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