Published: Wed, June 27, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

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

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

Having three or more children-or none at all-was also a risk factor for breast cancer in female flight attendants.

The risk of breast cancer, for instance, was around 50 per cent more for air stewardesses than other women.

The researchers revealed flight crew are more likely to develop many cancers than the general population, including breast, uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal and thyroid cancers.

Cancer Research UK has warned people working in these occupations should be fully aware of the potential risks. Their results were published Monday in the journal Environmental Health.

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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. Over 80 percent of the participants were female.

These included those of the breast (3.4% against 2.3%), womb (0.15% against 0.13%), cervix (1% compared to 0.7%), gastrointestines (0.47% compared to 0.27%) and thyroid (0.67% compared to 0.56%). Typically, the more children a woman has, the lower her risk of breast cancer. "Combine that with this disruption from the job, especially for those who fly internationally, this may be an indication that the circadian rhythm disruption is having an impact".

USA flight attendants are having a higher rate of developing various cancers than the general population, a study showed. In addition, flight attendants who worked before smoking on board was banned were exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke.

Other potential risk factors include sleep-cycle disruption brought on by overnight flights and crossing time-zones, past exposure to secondhand smoke in the cabin and ongoing exposures to chemicals such as pesticides, which are used to sterilize cabins on some worldwide flights. The association also noted that the United States federal government now does not require airlines to educate cabin crews about onboard radiation exposure, or to offer additional protections from radiation-including for pregnant flight attendants.

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The Harvard University scientists behind the work came to their conclusion by examining data from more than 5,300 US-based flight attendants who filled out an online survey between December 2014 and June 2015 as part of the larger "Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study". On average, attendants were 51 years old and had been working in the profession for just over 20 years.

This was compared with 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.

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

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. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air.

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A flight attendant's life may look glamorous, but the job comes with health hazards that go beyond managing surly passengers.

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