Flight attendants may have increased risk for certain cancers

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Flight attendants may have increased risk for certain cancers

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, surveyed 5,366 USA flight crew members and found that slightly over 15 per cent of them reported having been diagnosed with cancer.

"Our study is among the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among cabin crew to date and we profiled a wide range of cancers", author Dr Irina Mordukhovich said in a statement.

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. Rates among flight attendants were especially high for breast, uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal, and thyroid cancer. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

She said circadian rhythm disruption, or sleep deprivation and irregular schedules, both at home and work may contribute to the higher risks of breast cancer.

While these results confirm earlier research linking work as a flight attendant to an increased risk of certain cancers - especially breast and skin malignancies - the study wasn't created to prove whether or how the job might directly cause tumors.

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

But she noted that higher rates of breast cancer among female flight attendants might be due to the fact that they had fewer children and gave birth for the first time later in life than other women.

A separate study in April involving almost 6,100 US flight attendants found no meaningful link between cosmic radiation or circadian rhythm disruption and several cancers.

The researchers also found an association between each five-year increase in time spent working as a flight attendant and non-melanoma skin cancer among women.

Previous studies also recorded a higher cancer risk in cabin crew.

Cancer Research UK has warned people working in these occupations should be fully aware of the potential risks. The authors couldn't link cosmic radiation or circadian rhythm disruptions to breast cancer because they couldn't isolate these two factors.

The findings, published June 25 in the journal Environmental Health, are based on 5,366 flight attendants who were part of an ongoing Harvard study begun in 2007. 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.

British experts have estimated airline crews receive a higher dose of radiation over a year than workers in the nuclear industry.

As airline policy changes work to catch up with research, flight attendant and frequent fliers can take steps now to help protect themselves from possible cancer-causing agents.

Although it's still not a proven link, the researchers writing in Environmental Health think US airlines could do more to protect flight attendants from the perils of radiation and abnormal sleep patterns.

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