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Flight Attendants Are Likelier To Get Cancer: Study

Jun 27, 2018 07:49 PM EDT
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There are certain benefits to a flight attendant's job, but a new study from Harvard University reveals there's a significant downside, too: higher cancer rates.

Researchers discovered an alarmingly steep rate of cancer in cabin crew employees in the United States.

The Study

The new study published in the journal Environmental Health compared the cancer rates of United States flight attendants to the general American population. It turns out that there's a greater prevalence of the disease among cabin crew members, especially for breast, thyroid, uterine, cervical, and gastrointestinal cancer.

Conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study is one of the largest ever analyses on cancer among flight attendants, a report from Harvard reveals.

The findings, which is part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Survey, included data from 5,366 U.S. flight attendants who participated in a 2014 to 2015 survey. It was compared to a similar CDC study of 5,000 citizens.

A report notes that the breast cancer rate of female flight attendants is 50 percent higher than the rate of the general population. Melanoma rates are over 200 percent higher, while non-melanoma skin cancer rates are about 300 percent higher.

Male flight attendants are also at risk with a 50 percent higher chance of melanoma and 10 percent higher chance of non-melanoma skin cancer.

"[The findings are] striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in our study population, which highlights the question of what can be done to minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew," says Irina Mordukhovich, author of the study and a research fellow at Harvard Chan School.

The Risks On Flight Attendants

Flight attendants are heavily exposed to several significant cancer risks such as cosmic ionizing radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and chemical contaminants.

In fact, they're actually exposed to the largest effective annual dose of ionizing radiation relative to other radiation workers in the United States, not just because of their exposure, but also due to their lack of protection. Furthermore, flight attendants are excluded from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections that are offered to other workers.

The study suggests that there should be more effort dedicated to reducing the exposure of flight attendants to cancer risks. Some of the steps that could be undergone are monitoring radiation doses and implementing schedules that minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA released a statement following the study's publication, calling better preventive measures in the workplace.

"We will use the results to encourage airlines, airline manufacturers, and regulators to prevent exposures and change working conditions to reduce risk," says Sara Nelson, AFA-CWA president.

"The study confirms that flight attendants are at higher risk of certain cancers and it identifies relevant occupational hazards that are consistent with such risk. That is unacceptable and we won't stop working to fix it."

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