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

Then there are the flight attendants who've been in the business for several decades, and worked aboard planes before 1988, when smoking during flights was banned.

Researchers asked 5,366 flight attendants and 2,729 other adults with similar socioeconomic backgrounds whether they had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

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Length of service did not appear to be a factor with breast cancer, thyroid cancer or melanoma in all women.

"Flight attendants are considered a historically understudied occupational group, so there is a lot we don't know about their health", says Mordukhovich.

And it was only associated with higher risk of breast cancer in women who either had never had children - nulliparity - or had three or more.

This is because they fly more northerly routes where exposure to cosmic radiation is highest.

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Among female flight attendants, the rate of breast cancer was 50% higher when compared to the general population. For instance, there are no official limits to the amount of cosmic ionizing radiation flight crews can be exposed to and their exposure is not monitored. The study did not examine the health impact of frequent flying among airline passengers.

The lead author of that study, Dr. Lynne Pinkerton of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, didn't rule out the possibility that altitude-related radiation exposure or disrupted sleep cycles might be connected to cancer. 30 flight hours of exposure to ionizing radiation would equal one chest x-ray, but they spend much less time in the air than a flight crew. "This may be due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption-that is sleep deprivation and irregular schedules-both at home and work", Mordukhovich added.

How can cancer risks be minimized in flight attendants? Other studies have linked shift work and disrupted circadian clocks to higher risk of breast and prostate cancers, possibly due to a reduced ability of DNA to fix itself and the way circadian rhythm processes may be connected to immune function.

The authors used 2013-14 data from the Flight Attendant Health Study, which has been tracking the health of selected flight crew since 2007. (The risk for pilots may be similar, but this study focused specifically on flight attendants.) The Association of Flight Attendants did not provide comment in time for publication. Researchers said the findings are particularly worrying considering the relative good health of the flight attendants included in the tests. They are, for example, less likely to smoke or be overweight, and have lower rates of heart disease.

Researchers found that women and men on USA cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population.

Any current or former USA flight attendant was eligible to participate. "We have known carcinogens that flight crews are exposed to, and we're hoping that this study allows people to start thinking about what should be done to implement protections".

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