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Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants, Especially Among Women

Cancer Risk Rises for Flight Attendants, Especially Among Women

While these results confirm earlier research linking work as a flight attendant to an increased risk of certain cancers - especially breast and skin malignancies - the study wasn't created to prove whether or how the job might directly cause tumors.

"This study is the first to show higher prevalences of all cancers studied, and significantly higher prevalences of non-melanoma skin cancer compared to a similarly matched US sample population", said lead study author Eileen McNeely of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. 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.

Irina Mordukhovich, a researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health, said there was a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crews relative to the general population.

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

"But we were surprised to replicate a recent finding that exposure to work as a flight attendant was related to breast cancer exclusively among women with three or more children", she said.

Sun exposure, a leading risk factor for skin cancers, might also be higher for flight attendants because they might spend time in the sun on layovers, noted Dr. Alessandra Buja, of the University of Padova in Italy, in an email.

(Other radiation workers have certain occupational safety regulations in place to protect them from exposure and restrict risky exposure.) The European Union regulates flight attendant schedules and flying time of pregnant flight attendants to limit potentially unsafe exposures.

Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds. Eighty percent of the flight attendants in the study were women, as would be expected, the authors said, in a "feminized" occupation.

This was compared to 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. In Europe, flight attendants' exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation is monitored and limited more by law.

Long-haul trips which disrupt the body clock and affect hormone levels are additional risks.

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

The US, according to the study authors, needs to catch up to the European Union (EU), which employs protections for their flight attendants. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air.

Dr Heutelbeck has also been treating passengers who are frequent flyers as well.

Among women crew members, the rates of breast (3.4 percent of flight crew vs 2.3 percent in the general population), uterine (0.15 vs 0.13), cervical (1.0 vs 0.70), gastrointestinal (0.47 vs 0.27), and thyroid (0.67 vs 0.56) cancers were only slightly elevated compared with controls, yet statistical analyses indicated that this pattern was very unlikely due to random chance. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.

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