Flight attendants were 51% more likely to develop breast cancer compared to their peers and had more than double the risk of melanoma. Accounting for age, the authors found a higher prevalence in flight crew of every cancer outcome examined in this study compared to the general population, including breast (3.4% of flight crew compared to 2.3% in the general population), uterine (0.15 % compared to 0.13%), cervical (1.0% compared to 0.70%), gastrointestinal (0.47% compared to 0.27%), and thyroid (0.67% compared to 0.56%) cancers.
But now, a new investigation by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health appears to quash past uncertainty after finding that a sizable group of airline crew members had higher-than-normal rates of many cancer types.
Some 3.4 percent of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared to 2.3 percent in the general population. The most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic".
Researchers followed more than 5,000 crew and found that their risk of breast cancer increased more than 50 per cent, while risks of stomach cancers are raised by as much as 74 per cent.
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. The authors point out that United States flight crew are subject to fewer protections than most workers in this industry, which may limit the generalizability of the results.
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. "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.
The survey used validated questions from the Job Content Questionnaire and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They noted their interest in studying flight attendants took off as they considered that in an overlooked profession, there may be a lack of or gaps in on-the-job policies protecting workers.
Flight attendants had higher rates of all cancers investigated. Other concerns include the myriad substances cabin crews are exposed to because of engine leaks, pesticides, and flame retardants, all three of which are suspected carcinogens.
Earlier this month we reported how campaigners concerned by leaks of toxic fumes into cabin air on flights on passenger planes that have bleed air systems recycling air that has passed over the engine are calling for an worldwide inquiry into how this affects the health of passengers and crew.
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