Airline crews at greater risk of cancer says study

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

These elevated cancer rates were observed despite indications of good-health behaviors, such as low levels of smoking and obesity, in the flight-attendant group as a whole, the study authors said.

Having three or more children-or none at all-was also a risk factor for breast cancer in female flight attendants.

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.

The researchers revealed flight crew are more likely to develop many cancers than the general population, including breast, uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal and thyroid cancers.

While the job itself may not inherently breed higher risks of cancer, working in a plane involves "exposures to known and probable carcinogens including cosmic ionizing radiation, circadian rhythm disruption, and possible chemical contaminants in the aircraft cabin", according to the study.

While these results confirm earlier research linking work as a flight attendant to an increased risk of certain cancers - especially breast and skin malignancies - the study wasn't created to prove whether or how the job might directly cause tumors. Then there are the flight attendants who've been in the business for several decades, and worked aboard planes before 1988, when smoking during flights was banned.

Irina Mordukhovich, corresponding author of the study, said the research is one of "the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among cabin crew to date". 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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Working at 36,000 feet may come with a medical issue: flight attendants could be at an increased cancer risk compared to those of us who don't fly as often, a new study finds.

Over 80% of the flight attendants who took part in the study were women. They've always been aware their occupation may be linked to increased cancer risks.

The prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma cancers were especially striking, says Mordukhovich. "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. Participants had an average age of 51 and had been in the profession for just over 20 years.

"Neither OSHA nor the FAA require airlines to educate flight attendants about onboard radiation exposure or offer protections during pregnancy, cabin air can be contaminated, and cabin crew fatigue is prevalent", Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement.

A flight attendant's life may look glamorous, but the job comes with health hazards that go beyond managing surly passengers.

British experts have estimated airline crews receive a higher dose of radiation over a year than workers in the nuclear industry. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.

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