Flight Attendants Have Higher Rates of Many Cancers, Study Says

ALAMYFlight attendants face cancer risk according to a new study

Flight attendants are more likely to develop several forms of cancer than the average person, a landmark study of more than 5,000 members of cabin crew has found.

Working as a flight attendant significantly increases your risk of a range of cancers compared to the general population, a major study of cabin crew has found.

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

Some 3.4% of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared with 2.3% in the general population.

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

One possible explanation for these increased rates is that flight attendants are exposed to a lot of known and potential carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, within their work environment, said lead study author Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The study also revealed for the first time a higher rate of non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, among flight attendants.

"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.

"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. The comparison indicated a higher risk of various types of cancers in flight attendants than the people who did not belong to that profession.

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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 doses and organizing schedules to minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, according to the researchers.

There has been only limited research on the health of flight attendants, but they may not be the only air travelers to experience higher rates of cancer. 30 flight hours of exposure to ionizing radiation would equal one chest x-ray, but they spend much less time in the air than a flight crew.

The researchers compared the prevalence of cancers among the flight attendants with similar information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an annual study of approximately 5,000 citizens that is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Harvard researchers began studying flight attendants' health more than a decade ago, launching the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study. Other concerns include the myriad substances cabin crews are exposed to because of engine leaks, pesticides, and flame retardants, all three of which are suspected carcinogens. And the risk of melanoma rose three times for cabin crew of both sexes. 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.

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