Why some cancer rates are higher in flight attendants

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Irina Mordukhovich, corresponding author of the study, said the research is one of "the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among cabin crew to date".

A study of more than 5,000 USA flight attendants has shown they have higher rates of certain cancers than the general public.

Flight attendants have soaring cancer rates compared to the general population, according to a new study.

The flight-crew rate was 0.15% compared with 0.13% for uterine cancer; 1.0% compared with 0.70% for cervical cancer; 0.47% compared with 0.27% for stomach or colon cancer; and 0.67% compared with 0.56% for thyroid cancer.

"This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group", said Mordukhovich, co-author of a study published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Health.

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New American research confirms that airplane cabin crew members are at increased risk, in relation to the general population, to develop certain types of cancer, especially breast and skin.The increased likelihood of the disease appears to be related to the fact that flight attendants and carers are more exposed to the ionizing cosmic and ultraviolet radiation that penetrate the plane and can damage the DNA.

The potential cancer risks for flight attendants are not limited to cosmic ionizing radiation.

The risk of breast cancer was higher in women who had never had children, as well as those who had three or more.

Any current or former U.S. flight attendant was eligible to participate in the study, with the vast majority (91%) now employed in a cabin crew role. Flight attendants were recruited, then people volunteered to answer surveys (that's called selection bias - those with cancer or without cancer may have been more likely to want to participate).

"In the European Union, air crew's radiation exposures are monitored and their schedules are created to minimize their dose, especially while pregnant". As of 2016, USA airlines employed about 116,600 flight attendants, according to federal data.

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As a part of this study, the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS) took near about fifty-three hundred flight attendants as subjects.

"Non-melanoma skin cancer among women increased with more years on the job, suggesting a work-related association", McNeely said by email.

They compared the self-reported cancer diagnoses with figures on a matching cohort of 2,729 men and women with similar economic status collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.

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.

Further complicating matters is that flight attendants in the US don't have the same occupational protections as their counterparts in the European Union. The sample group was more than 80 percent female and had an average tenure of 20 years, with 91 percent actively employed.

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Male caregivers also have a 50% greater risk of skin melanoma (1.2% vs. 0.69% in the general male population) and about 10% increased risk for skin cancer other than melanoma (3.2% versus 2.9%). The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

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