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Flight attendants may have higher cancer rates

Poor cabin air quality and high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke before in-flight smoking bans were implemented may also contribute to cancer risk.

The FAHS included more than 5,300 flight attendants who were recruited through online and mailed surveys, and given in person at airports.

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But no link was identified between job tenure and thyroid cancer or melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer - in women. Melanoma rates were just over 200% higher and non-melanoma skin cancer rates were about 300% higher.Male flight attendants, meanwhile, were about 50% more likely to suffer from melanoma and 10% more likely to have non-melanoma skin cancer. And reproductive factors like that are associated with the risk of breast cancer. Fiering, who was not involved in the study but conducts research on flight attendants, said he found the higher rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among women in the study "striking" - "especially to see a close to four-fold increase in non-melanoma skin cancer; that is substantial", he said. That exposure may not be concerning for people taking individual flights, but for people whose jobs involve flying, that risk may have a negative effect on their health, as the study results suggest.

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. Cabin crew have the highest average annual effective dose of cosmic ionizing radiation of all US radiation workers. But there are no limitations or regulations in the USA on how much exposure is safe for flight attendants.

"This may be due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption sleep deprivation and irregular schedules both at home and at work".

The authors used self-reported data from 5,366 U.S. flight attendants and compared it with data from a matching group of 2,729 men and women with similar economic status who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey collected during the same years. And yet, for the attendants themselves, the job is particularly risky when considering the cancer risks. (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.

Corresponding author Dr Irina Mordukhovich said: "Our study is among the largest and most comprehensive studies of cancer among cabin crew to date and we profiled a wide range of cancers".

There's been very little research on the health risks faced by flight attendants. "We hope the study highlights issues about exposures that we know are problematic for flight attendants and pilots and aren't now being addressed". 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.

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