Health Care

Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants, Especially Among Women

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.

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". The flight attendants answered questions about their flight schedules, as well as any diagnoses of cancer.

In all, 5,366 attendants working on domestic and worldwide flights in the U.S. were examined.

"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.

Flight attendants, however, are less likely than the general population to die of all causes except plane crashes, said Rob Griffiths, programme director of occupational and aviation medicine at the University of Otago Wellington in New Zealand.

USA flight attendants may be more likely than other Americans to develop several types of cancer including tumours of the breast, uterus, cervix, thyroid and skin, new research suggests.

"Neither OSHA nor the FAA require airlines to educate flight attendants about onboard radiation exposure or offer protections during pregnancy, cabin air can be contaminated, and cabin crew fatigue is prevalent", Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement.

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One of those carcinogens is cosmic ionizing radiation, which is elevated at higher altitudes, Mordukhovich told Live Science. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that ionizing radiation, like that found in cosmic radiation, can contribute to cancer in people.

American flight attendants didn't get Occupational Safety and Health Administration protection until 2014, and even now their protections are limited. Cabin crew have the highest average annual effective dose of cosmic ionizing radiation of all US radiation workers.

Researchers asked 5,366 flight attendants and 2,729 other adults with similar socioeconomic backgrounds whether they had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

"The fact that we are seeing higher cancer rates in this study population is definitely striking", she says.

Taking age into account, the study found a higher prevalence of cancer in flight crew for every type of cancer examined.

Any current or former U.S. flight attendant was eligible to participate.



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