Medicine

Worrying cancer risk found in flight cabin crew

Worrying cancer risk found in flight cabin crew

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".

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.

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. Flight attendants had a 51% higher prevalence of breast cancers, more than two-fold higher prevalence of melanoma and four-fold greater prevalence of non melanoma skin cancers, compared to people not in the profession. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

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

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.

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

But no link was identified between job tenure and thyroid cancer or melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer - in women.

Dr Mordukhovich said: "Nulliparity is a known risk factor for breast cancer 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".

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

Her team used data from a survey carried out from 2013 to 2014 as part of the ongoing Flight Attendant Health Study established in 2007.

This was compared with data from 23,729 men and women with similar economic status who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.

There is sparse literature on this topic, and future research is needed to evaluate the association between in-flight exposures and cancer among the cabin crew, monitoring their exposure to ionizing radiation, and figuring out ways to minimize this exposure.

Long-haul trips which disrupt the body clock and affect hormone levels are additional risks. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

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

The study cannot say that being a flight attendant "causes" cancer; it can only make an observation that they seem linked.

Although it's still not a proven link, the researchers writing in Environmental Health think USA airlines could do more to protect flight attendants from the perils of radiation and abnormal sleep patterns.