Health

Flight crews face an increased risk of cancer

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For the first time, researchers also showed cabin crew members have higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Working at 36,000 feet may come with a medical issue: flight attendants could be at an increased cancer risk compared to those of us who don't fly as often, a new study finds. In addition, melanoma rates were more than two times higher and nonmelanoma skin cancer rates were about four times higher in female flight attendants compared with women from the general population. This includes cancers of the breast, cervix, skin, thyroid and uterus, as well as gastrointestinal system cancers, which include colon, stomach, esophageal, liver and pancreatic cancers. The authors compared the self-reported cancer diagnoses of flight crew with data 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. The most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic".

Flight attendants are exposed to several known and probable cancer risks, including cosmic ionizing radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and chemical contaminants.

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

"Neither OSHA nor the FAA require airlines to educate flight attendants about onboard radiation exposure or offer protections during pregnancy, cabin air can be contaminated, and cabin crew fatigue is prevalent", Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said in a statement.

The group included some flight attendants who were part of the 2007 study, and new participants recruited at five large US airports, from airline unions and using social media.

The authors recommend that further efforts be made in the U.S. to limit cancer risk among this work population such as radiation dose monitoring and the implementation of schedules that will lower exposure to radiation and prevent the disruption of circadian rhythms. The authors point out that U.S. flight crew are subject to fewer protections than most workers in this industry, which may limit the generalizability of the results.

Researchers have long found that flight attendants have increased the risk for breast cancer and melanoma.

As a part of this study, the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS) took near about fifty-three hundred flight attendants as subjects. In general, though, airplane cabin crews are exposed more regularly to ultra-violet cosmic radiation than the average person-at higher altitudes, cosmic radiation goes through less atmospheric filtering. "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. Those data were then compared to surveys filled out by 2,700 other Americans with similar levels of education and income, but working in other sectors.

PPG Aerospace recently unveiled a new transparency film that can be applied to cockpit and cabin windows to prevent harmful UVA, UVB, and HEVBLUE rays from entering the aircraft.

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