Airline crews at greater risk of cancer says study

Female flight Attendants used to illustrate the story

"This study is the first to show higher prevalences of all cancers studied, and significantly higher prevalences of non-melanoma skin cancer compared to a similarly matched USA sample population", said lead study author Eileen McNeely of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Dr Mordukhovich said: "Our study informs future research priorities regarding the health of this understudied group of workers, who have a wide range of job-related exposures to known and probable carcinogens including cosmic ionizing radiation, circadian rhythm disruption and possible chemical contaminants in the aircraft cabin".

The researchers found that in female flight attendants, the rates of breast cancer were about 50 percent higher than in women from the general population.

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. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

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.

Flight crew have higher than average rates of certain cancers, according to a study of more than 5,000 US-based flight attendants.

Sun exposure, a leading risk factor for skin cancers, might also be higher for flight attendants because they might spend time in the sun on layovers, noted Dr. Alessandra Buja, of the University of Padova in Italy, in an email. Data showed a higher prevalence of breast, uterine, thyroid, gastrointestinal and cervical cancers among cabin crew members.

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

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"But we were surprised to replicate a recent finding that exposure to work as a flight attendant was related to breast cancer exclusively among women with three or more children", she said.

Nearly every commercial flight begins with a member of the cabin crew delivering a spiel to passengers about inflight safety.

Researchers surveyed 5,366 male and female flight attendants from 2014 to 2015 and compared cancer rates to those recorded in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2013 to 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Air cabin crews receive the highest yearly dose of ionizing radiation on the job of all US workers, she added.

One of the most unusual risks is cosmic ionizing radiation (radiation from outer space that penetrates airplanes).

The average amount of exposure to radiation has increased over time as planes fly higher and for longer. The association also noted that the U.S. federal government now does not require airlines to educate cabin crews about onboard radiation exposure, or to offer additional protections from radiation-including for pregnant flight attendants. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air.

The study cannot say that being a flight attendant "causes" cancer; it can only make an observation that they seem linked. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

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