Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates, study suggests

Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates, study suggests

Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates, study suggests

Irina Mordukhovich, corresponding author of the study, said the research is one of "the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among cabin crew to date".

Studies of pilots have generally shown higher rates of skin and prostate cancers, she noted, adding that pilots also have been found to have circadian rhythm disruption, but these workers have somewhat more built-in protections around their scheduling and rest times than flight attendants do.

"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 US sample population", said lead study author Eileen McNeely of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

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.

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.

Other studies have found higher rates of deaths from cancer among cabin crew and higher rates of specific diseases such as chronic bronchitis and cardiac disease in flight attendants than the general population.

The paper deduced that the cancer rates were most likely a result of being exposed to occupation-related factors such as cosmic ionizing radiation at flight altitude.

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As the findings shows that prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers was high among flight attendants compared to the general population, the researchers suggest that measures such as monitoring the radiation doses and organising a proper work routine should be taken to minimise cancer causing risk among the cabin crew. Poor cabin air quality and high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke before in-flight smoking bans were implemented may also contribute to cancer risk.

Despite these known risks, flight attendants have historically been excluded from Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections typically granted to US workers. But time served was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women who never had children and women who had three or more children, researchers said.

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

In all, 5,366 attendants working on domestic and global flights in the United States were examined.

Flight attendants also have disrupted sleep schedules, since they frequently cross time zones and aren't able to maintain a regular circadian wake-sleep cycle.

This study surveyed more than 5,300 flight attendants (80% were female), and compared them to around 2,700 people who had similar income and educational status but worked on the ground, as part of 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. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

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