Exposure to radiation, carcinogens puts flight attendants at high risk of cancer

"The fact that we are seeing higher cancer rates in this study population is definitely striking", she says. These include breast, uterine, gastrointestinal, thyroid and cervical cancer.

Which cancer risks are increased in flight attendants?

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health, suggested some but not all of the increased incidence was linked to the time spent in the job - meaning doing it for less than five years raises the risk.

Some 3.4 percent of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared to 2.3 per cent in the general population.

In all, 5,366 attendants working on domestic and global flights in the U.S. were examined. Among women, the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer rose in tandem with job tenure.

Sara Nelson, president of the country's largest flight attendants union, said the study's findings emphasize the need for more education and more preventative action.

"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.

Flight attendants also have disrupted sleep schedules, since they frequently cross time zones and aren't able to maintain a regular circadian wake-sleep cycle.

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This study surveyed more than 5,300 flight attendants (80% were female), and compared them to around 2,700 people who had similar income and educational status but worked on the ground, as part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study.

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

The authors used 2013-14 data from the Flight Attendant Health Study, which has been tracking the health of selected flight crew since 2007. Participants had an average age of 51 and had been in the profession for just over 20 years.

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

There is sparse literature on this topic, and future research is needed to evaluate the association between in-flight exposures and cancer among the cabin crew, monitoring their exposure to ionizing radiation, and figuring out ways to minimize this exposure.

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

While cosmic radiation originates in outer space, small amounts reach the earth, and greater chances of exposure occur at higher altitudes. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

These elevated cancer rates were observed despite indications of good-health behaviors, such as low levels of smoking and obesity, in the flight-attendant group as a whole, the study authors said. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.

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