Monday, 16 July, 2018

Harvard researchers examine cancer rates in flight attendants

Tais Policanti—Getty Images Tais Policanti—Getty Images
Melissa Porter | 28 June, 2018, 20:43

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 most striking thing is that this happens even though there are small percentages of overweight and smokers in this professional group, "said Mordukovic".

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, US found that out of the 5,366 flight attendants who participated in this study, slightly over 15% reported ever having been diagnosed with cancer. Generally, with the number of babies a woman reproduces, her risk of acquiring breast cancer reduces.

Researchers from the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS) have always been studying the matter, since 2007. These flight attendants then answered the questions related to their flight routines and possible cancer diagnoses. Women cabin crew, in particular, were more likely to develop breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. "Combine that with this disruption from the job, especially for those who fly internationally, this may be an indication that the circadian rhythm disruption is having an impact".

The researchers began studying flight attendants' health more than a decade ago, when they launched the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS).

Researchers compared the prevalence of self-reported cancer in flight attendants against a group of people with a similar socioeconomic background to cabin crew.

Mordukhovich said that aside from policy, crew members can take certain precautions such as wearing sunscreen on the aircraft to protect from UV rays, maintaining healthy and consistent sleep practices on their days off, as well as eating a healthy diet and exercising.

Uterine, cervical, thyroid, breast, gastrointestinal, and non-melanoma skin cancers were all found to be more prevalent in flight attendants, according to an article published Monday in the journal Environmental Health.

"The E.U. already evaluates radiation exposure among flight attendants, which our findings show may be an important step toward lowering cancer risk among this work population", said study author Eileen McNeely. Over 80% of the flight crew whose data were analyzed in the study were female; they were 51.5 years old on average and had been in the profession for just over 20 years.

Plane stewards are routinely exposed to several known and suspected carcinogens, including altitude-based radiation.

Previous research by scientists in Iceland suggested stewardesses were up to five times more likely to contract breast cancer.

One of the most unusual risks is cosmic ionizing radiation (radiation from outer space that penetrates airplanes).

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 worldwide inquiry into how this affects the health of passengers and crew.

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

But she noted that higher rates of breast cancer among female flight attendants might be due to the fact that they had fewer children and gave birth for the first time later in life than other women. A large majority, 91 per cent of participants, were or had been cabin crew.