Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants, Especially Among Women

Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants, Especially Among Women

Flight attendants had a 51% higher prevalence of breast cancers, more than two-fold higher prevalence of melanoma and four-fold greater prevalence of non melanoma skin cancers, compared to people not in the profession.

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.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, surveyed 5,366 US flight crew members and found that slightly over 15 per cent of them reported having been diagnosed with cancer. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

Flight attendants are exposed to several known and probable cancer risks, including cosmic ionizing radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and chemical contaminants.

Although these risk factors are known, cabin crews have not previously been included in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections that usually help safeguard workers in the U.S. In 2014, some protections were introduced; however, these do not involve the monitoring or regulation of exposure to radiation.

Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds.

Nearly every commercial flight begins with a member of the cabin crew delivering a spiel to passengers about inflight safety.


Out of 5,366 flight attendants who took part in the study, just over 15 percent reported ever having been diagnosed with cancer.

There, exposure levels to radiation as well as work schedules are routinely monitored and adjusted to make sure flight attendants don't exceed certain guidelines for carcinogen exposure, Mordukhovich said. As of 2016, US airlines employed about 116,600 flight attendants, according to federal data. And yet, for the attendants themselves, the job is particularly unsafe when considering the cancer risks.

Those carcinogens most notably include higher doses of cosmic radiation that flight crews are exposed to because of long hours spent working at high altitude, a situation that can be exacerbated on flights at high latitudes or over the Earth's magnetic poles.

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.

This was compared to data from 23,729 men and women with similar economic status who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.

Although the cancer risks for frequent flyers have not yet been studied, there is no reason to suspect these people would not have similar risks as those faced by cabin crews, Mordukhovich said. A large majority, 91 per cent of participants, were or had been cabin crew.

Earlier this month we reported how campaigners concerned by leaks of toxic fumes into cabin air on flights on passenger planes that have bleed air systems recycling air that has passed over the engine are calling for an worldwide inquiry into how this affects the health of passengers and crew.

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