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

Flight Attendants Have Higher Rates of Many Cancers Study Says

Flight Attendants Have Higher Rates of Many Cancers Study Says

Although it's still not a proven link, the researchers writing in Environmental Health think USA airlines could do more to protect flight attendants from the perils of radiation and abnormal sleep patterns.

Each five-year increase spent working as a flight attendant increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer among women and higher risk of breast cancer in women who had never had children or those who had had three or more. These data were then compared with the data received from a survey done on a group of people not belonging to the airline occupation.

Length of service did not appear to be a factor with breast cancer, thyroid cancer or melanoma in all women.

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

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US found that out of the 5,366 flight attendants who participated in this study, slightly over 15% reported ever having been diagnosed with cancer.

After taking age into account there was higher prevalence of every cancer looked at compared to the general public.

Eighty percent of the study participants were female, which makes sense given the profession is still over 75% female-dominated.

The flight-crew rate was 0.15 percent compared to 0.13 percent for uterine cancer; 1.0 compared to 0.70 percent for cervical cancer; 0.47 compared to 0.27 percent for stomach or colon cancer; and 0.67 compared to 0.56 percent for thyroid cancer.

Mordukhovich says that the results need to be repeated by other groups to confirm the risk, but the data should raise concerns about the risk of cancer for flight attendants. They may also experience circadian-rhythm disruption caused by irregular work schedules and time-zone shifts.

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. "Future longitudinal studies should evaluate associations between specific exposures and cancers among cabin crew", they wrote.

Researchers conducted a survey of 5,366 USA flight attendants in 2014 and 2015 that asked them to self-report on health outcomes, including past cancer diagnoses, work experience, employment history and personal characteristics.

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

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

Although the cancer risks for frequent flyers have not yet been studied, there is no reason to suspect these people would not have similar risks as those faced by cabin crews, Mordukhovich said.

Unions for flight attendants at Southwest and American airlines identified crew fatigue as a top health issue that needs to be addressed, something the pending Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill could do with required minimum rest times. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air.

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