Cabin crew more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, Harvard study finds

Cabin crew more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, Harvard study finds

Cabin crew more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, Harvard study finds

Mordukhovich said she and her colleagues were motivated to study flight attendants because there are gaps in the research on them, and that could mean gaps in the policies meant to protect them on the job, at least in the United States.

Flight attendants had a higher prevalence of every cancer that was examined, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer among women, echoing multiple USA and European studies.

"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.

These included those of the breast (3.4% against 2.3%), womb (0.15% against 0.13%), cervix (1% compared to 0.7%), gastrointestines (0.47% compared to 0.27%) and thyroid (0.67% compared to 0.56%).

The researchers, led by Irina Mordukhovich, a research associate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, then compared the responses to those from a matched group of people not in the airline profession from an ongoing national health survey. About 15 percent of the participants reported ever having been diagnosed with cancer, a higher prevalence than the general population. The authors said the results were "striking" given the low rates of overweight and smoking flight attendants.

This was especially the case if they were exposed to high levels of occupational secondhand smoke before the introduction of smoking bans in 1998. Some of this increased cancer incidence may be related to the number of years flight attendants spend in their jobs (job tenure).

"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.

Buja, who wasn't involved in the study, added that the connection between flight attendant work and cancer rates in the study "may reflect the effect of flight attendant work exposure", but it could also be explained by "reproductive factors or sun exposure and only indirectly associated with this work".

"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", she said. The authors point out that U.S. flight crew are subject to fewer protections than most workers in this industry, which may limit the generalizability of the results. And yet, for the attendants themselves, the job is particularly unsafe when considering the cancer risks. Women cabin crew, in particular, were more likely to develop breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Dr. Mordukhovich knows of no studies about cancer risk in frequent fliers, but they are at risk of being exposed to ionizing radiation and possible shifts in their sleep-wake cycles.

While cosmic radiation originates in outer space, small amounts reach the earth, and greater chances of exposure occur at higher altitudes.

PPG Aerospace recently unveiled a new transparency film that can be applied to cockpit and cabin windows to prevent harmful UVA, UVB, and HEVBLUE rays from entering the aircraft.

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