Published: Thu, June 28, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Flight attendants have higher cancer risk

Flight attendants have higher cancer risk

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 USA and European studies.

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. The most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic".

Despite these known risks, flight attendants have historically been excluded from Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections typically granted to US workers.

"Something that somewhat surprised us, to some extent, was that we also saw a higher instance of breast cancer in women with three or more children", said study co-author Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

And it was only associated with higher risk of breast cancer in women who either had never had children - nulliparity - or had three or more.

As reported in the journal Environmental Health, study leader Eileen McNeely and team analysed a survey involving 5,366 United States. flight attendants that was conducted between 2014 and 2015. And yet, for the attendants themselves, the job is particularly risky when considering the cancer risks.

Female flight staff had an average of 51% more likely to develop breast cancer.

"This may due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption - that is sleep deprivation and irregular schedules - both at home and work".

As for male flight attendants, they are more likely to have melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, especially if they were exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke.

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US 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.

Mordukhovich found higher prevalence of breast, melanoma, uterine, gastrointestinal, thyroid and cervical cancers among the flight attendants compared to the general public.

Other potential risk factors include sleep-cycle disruption brought on by overnight flights and crossing time-zones, past exposure to secondhand smoke in the cabin and ongoing exposures to chemicals such as pesticides, which are used to sterilize cabins on some worldwide flights.

Flight attendants are exposed to several known and probable cancer risks, including cosmic ionizing radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and chemical contaminants. "Future longitudinal studies should evaluate associations between specific exposures and cancers among cabin crew", they wrote.

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.

British experts have estimated airline crews receive a higher dose of radiation over a year than workers in the nuclear industry.

In Europe, flight attendants' exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation is monitored and limited more by law.

The average amount of exposure to radiation has increased over time as planes fly higher and for longer. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers. A large majority, 91 per cent of participants, were or had been cabin crew.

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