Worrying cancer risk found in flight cabin crew

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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. Over 7 percent of female flight attendants had been diagnosed with those cancers, compared to just under 2 percent of other women.

"We report a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crews relative to the general population", said Irina Mordukhovich, a researcher at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and co-author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health.

Dr Mordukhovich said: "Our study informs future research priorities regarding the health of this understudied group of workers, who have a wide range of job-related exposures to known and probable carcinogens including cosmic ionizing radiation, circadian rhythm disruption and possible chemical contaminants in the aircraft cabin".

Still, McNeely said, her team found some evidence that the longer flight attendants had been on the job, the higher their cancer risk was. Then there are the flight attendants who've been in the business for several decades, and worked aboard planes before 1988, when smoking during flights was banned.

"Our findings raise the question of what can be done to minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew".

There is a higher risk of breast cancer in women never had children and women who had three or more children, according to the study.

Among women crew members, the rates of breast (3.4 percent of flight crew vs 2.3 percent in the general population), uterine (0.15 vs 0.13), cervical (1.0 vs 0.70), gastrointestinal (0.47 vs 0.27), and thyroid (0.67 vs 0.56) cancers were only slightly elevated compared with controls, yet statistical analyses indicated that this pattern was very unlikely due to random chance. Among women, the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer rose in tandem with job tenure.

Cancer Research UK has warned people working in these occupations should be fully aware of the potential risks.

The prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma cancers were especially striking, says Mordukhovich. A previous study showed a result similar to the new breast cancer finding, she said, but Mordukhovich didn't expect those findings would be replicated.

Their ongoing research project, called the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS), began collecting self-reported medical data from 5,366 flight attendants in 2007.

"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.

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

Measures included monitoring radiation doses and organising work schedules. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.