Irina Mordukhovich, a researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health, said there was a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crews relative to the general population.
Due to regular exposure to carcinogens, disrupted sleep cycles and possible chemical contaminants, flight attendants may be at a higher risk of developing several forms of cancer than others, finds a new research.
Why are cancer rates higher in flight attendants?
USA flight attendants are having a higher rate of developing various cancers than the general population, a study showed. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.
Cancer rates in male flight attendants were almost 50 percent higher for melanoma and about 10 percent higher for nonmelanoma skin cancers compared with men from the general population group, according to the findings.
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. Flight attendants' risk of breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer was particularly elevated, but the researchers also found a higher prevalence of uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal, thyroid cancers in the group.
Length of service did not appear to be a factor with breast cancer, thyroid cancer or melanoma in all women.
"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", said Mordukhovich.
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Nearly every commercial flight begins with a member of the cabin crew delivering a spiel to passengers about inflight safety.
American flight attendants didn't get Occupational Safety and Health Administration protection until 2014, and even now their protections are limited.
The survey used validated questions from the Job Content Questionnaire and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). On average, attendants were 51 years old and had been working in the profession for just over 20 years.
While European regulators require monitoring of aircrews' radiation exposure and changes to their work schedules if it exceeds certain thresholds, no such rules exist in the U.S.
This is because they fly more northerly routes where exposure to cosmic radiation is highest. "What we do know for sure is the exposures that both pilots and flight attendants have-the main one being high radiation levels because of cosmic radiation at altitude". But there are no limitations or regulations in the USA on how much exposure is safe for flight attendants.
"The specific pattern we are seeing is firstly lung injury - the lung's breathing mechanism is fine, but there are problems getting the oxygen out of the air", said Dr Heutelbeck, adding that there are also a common pattern of symptoms related with neurotoxicity and small fibre nerve damage. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.
Other studies have found higher rates of deaths from cancer among cabin crew and higher rates of specific diseases such as chronic bronchitis and cardiac disease in flight attendants than the general population.