Flight attendants exposed to greater risk of cancers

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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".

Male flight attendants were found to have higher rates of skin cancer - 1.2 and 3.2 percent for melanoma and non-melanoma cancer, respectively, compared to 0.69 and 2.9 percent for the adult population as a whole.

The study showed higher rates of breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, cervical cancer, thyroid cancer, uterine cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer amongst the flight attendants.

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%).

"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".

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"This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group", she said in a statement.

The researchers began studying flight attendants' health more than a decade ago, when they launched the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS).

Medical scientists have known about the potential health risks of this career field for some time, yet the results from the small handful of studies focused on the issue have been frustratingly contradictory, especially when it comes to cancer.

The risk of breast cancer was higher in women who had never had children, as well as those who had three or more.

Cancer rates amongst the cabin crew were compared with those reported by around 5,000 USA residents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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"In the European Union, air crew's radiation exposures are monitored and their schedules are created to minimize their dose, especially while pregnant".

However, according to Reuters, flight attendants are still less likely to die of all causes (except from a plane crash) than the general population. "This may be due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption-that is sleep deprivation and irregular schedules-both at home and work", Mordukhovich added. The current study used information from the 2014 to 2015 survey and compared it to health outcomes from 2,729 control subjects who were matched for socioeconomic status. 30 flight hours of exposure to ionizing radiation would equal one chest x-ray, but they spend much less time in the air than a flight crew.

As reported in the journal Environmental Health, study leader Eileen McNeely and team analysed a survey involving 5,366 USA. flight attendants that was conducted between 2014 and 2015.

The lead author of that study, Dr. Lynne Pinkerton of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, didn't rule out the possibility that altitude-related radiation exposure or disrupted sleep cycles might be connected to cancer. 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. They also observed that women cabin crew members have an increased risk of developing breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma cancer. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

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