Why flight attendants are at high risk of cancer?

Female flight Attendants used to illustrate the story

Cabin crew are much more likely to develop cancer, according to new research.

Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds.

The risk of breast cancer, for instance, was around 50 per cent more for air stewardesses than other women.

"Flight attendants are considered a historically understudied occupational group, so there is a lot we don't know about their health", says Mordukhovich.

Dr Irina Mordukhovich, one of the report's authors, said: "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". The analysis looked at the cancer rates in these flight attendants compared to a group of about 2,700 people who had a similar income and educational status but were not flight attendants. Disruptions in circadian rhythm - a person's daily sleep-wake cycle - are linked to an increased cancer risk, studies have shown.

In a study published Monday in the journal Environmental Health, researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that flight attendants were more likely to have cancer than the general population.

Flight attendants had higher rates of all cancers investigated.

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.

Over 80 per cent of the flight attendants who took part in the study were women.

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

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.

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

The authors found an association between each five years of time spent working as a flight attendant and non-melanoma skin cancer among women.

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.

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.

American flight attendants didn't get Occupational Safety and Health Administration protection until 2014, and even now their protections are limited. Participants had an average age of 51 and had been in the profession for just over 20 years.

The average amount of exposure to radiation has increased over time as planes fly higher and for longer.

While European regulators require monitoring of aircrews' radiation exposure and changes to their work schedules if it exceeds certain thresholds, no such rules exist in the U.S.

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