Health Care

Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates

Commercial flight crews show higher cancer rates

US flight attendants may be more likely than other Americans to develop several types of cancer including tumors of the breast, uterus, cervix, thyroid, and skin, new research suggests. In relation to the general population, flight attendants and caregivers had the following breast cancer rates: breast 3.4% vs 2.3%, uterus 0.15% vs. 0.13%, neck 1% versus 0.7%, gut 0, 47% vs. 0.27% and thyroid 0.67% vs. 0.56%.

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.

Some 3.4% of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared with 2.3% in the general population. The most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic". Melanoma rates were just over 200% higher and non-melanoma skin cancer rates were about 300% higher.Male flight attendants, meanwhile, were about 50% more likely to suffer from melanoma and 10% more likely to have non-melanoma skin cancer. However, this fact was not found to hold good in the case of flight attendants.

"Something that somewhat surprised us, to some extent, was that we also saw a higher instance of breast cancer in women with three or more children", Mordukhovich said, adding that flight attendants with three or more children possibly do not get enough sleep.

Any current or former United States flight attendant was eligible to participate in the study, with the vast majority (91%) now employed in a cabin crew role.

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The group included some flight attendants who were part of the 2007 study, and new participants recruited at five large USA airports, from airline unions and using social media.

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.

The US, according to the study authors, needs to catch up to the European Union (EU), which employs protections for their flight attendants.

Flight attendants had higher rates of all cancers investigated.

The FAHS included more than 5,300 flight attendants who were recruited through online and mailed surveys, and given in person at airports.

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"The E.U. already evaluates radiation exposure among flight attendants, which our findings show may be an important step toward lowering cancer risk among this work population", said study author Eileen McNeely.

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

The study says more than 80 per cent of the flight attendants whose data were analyzed were female, who were 51.5 years old on average and had worked in the profession for over two decades.

One of those carcinogens is cosmic ionizing radiation, which is elevated at higher altitudes, Mordukhovich told Live Science. They also observed that women cabin crew members have an increased risk of developing breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma cancer.

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