"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", said Irina Mordukhovich, a study author and research fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, in an emailed statement.
Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds. Even when flight attendants reported having stereotypically good health, diet, and exercise regimens, the likelihood that they would be stricken with certain cancers was still higher than the other survey respondents.
The researchers revealed flight crew are more likely to develop many cancers than the general population, including breast, uterine, cervical, gastrointestinal and thyroid cancers.
The researchers found that in female flight attendants, the rates of breast cancer were about 50 percent higher than in women from the general population. But time served was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women who never had children and women who had three or more children, researchers said.
Taking age into account, the study found a higher prevalence of cancer in flight crew for every type of cancer examined.
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Medical scientists have known about the potential health risks of this career field for some time, yet the results from the small handful of studies focused on the issue have been frustratingly contradictory, especially when it comes to cancer.
(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. Eighty percent of the flight attendants in the study were women, as would be expected, the authors said, in a "feminized" occupation. "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. Disruptions in circadian rhythm - a person's daily sleep-wake cycle - are linked to an increased cancer risk, studies have shown.
But no link was identified between job tenure and thyroid cancer or melanoma - the deadliest skin cancer - in women. 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. On average, attendants were 51 years old and had been working in the profession for just over 20 years.
A flight attendant's life may look glamorous, but the job comes with health hazards that go beyond managing surly passengers.
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 global inquiry into how this affects the health of passengers and crew. In Europe, flight attendants' exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation is monitored and limited more by law. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.