Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

Tais Policanti—Getty Images

United States flight attendants experience higher rates of several types of cancer compared with the general public, according to a study that calls attention to the potential risks of their unique working environment.

More airline attendants suffer several cancer-related problems, as profession appears glamorous, but it comes with many health threats as compared to common people.

"This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group", she said in a statement.

If you've even sat in the wrong spot, you're more likely to get sick.

Dr Mordukhovich, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States, and colleagues found out of the 5,366 U.S. flight attendants surveyed one-in-seven had been diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers followed more than 5,000 crew and found that their risk of breast cancer increased more than 50 per cent, while risks of stomach cancers are raised by as much as 74 per cent.

Over 5,300 US -based flight attendants took part in the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study between 2014-2015, although the results have only just been published. Cabin crew members are also regularly exposed to more UV radiation than the general population, which can make these workers more vulnerable to skin cancers, Mordukhovich said.

"Combine that with this disruption from the job, especially for those who fly internationally, this may be an indication that the circadian rhythm disruption is having an impact", Mordukhovich added.

The researchers began studying flight attendants' health more than a decade ago, when they launched the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS).

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The findings suggest that additional efforts should be made in the U.S.to minimize the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation dose and organizing schedules to minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, say the authors.

For the first time, researchers also showed cabin crew members have higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancer. As found in the study, the types of cancer that are most commonly observed in flight attendants are- uterine cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and skin cancer.

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 global flights.

This was compared with 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.

At high altitudes, where the air is thinner and provides less of a shield, passengers and crew can be exposed to between 100 and 300 times the cosmic radiation dose they receive at sea level.

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. The authors also caution that health outcomes were based on self-reported data that could not be validated through medical records due to the associated scope and cost.

"Consistent with previous studies, we report a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crew relative to the general population".

PPG Aerospace recently unveiled a new transparency film that can be applied to cockpit and cabin windows to prevent harmful UVA, UVB, and HEVBLUE rays from entering the aircraft.

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