Updated: Jan 9
Working as a flight attendant significantly increases your risk of a range of cancers compared to the general population, a major study of cabin crew has found.
Researchers followed more than 5,000 crew and found that their risk of breast cancer increased more than 50 per cent, while risks of stomach cancers are raised by as much as 74 per cent. The study cannot prove what causes this increase, but the authors said increased exposure to ionising radiation from time spent in the thinner upper atmosphere as well as disrupted sleep and meal cycles could be factors.
Published in the journal Environmental Health, the study found a higher rate of every cancer outcome it looked at when age was standardised. “We report a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crew relative to the general population,” said Dr Irina Mordukhovich of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group.” The increased cancer risk was seen in breast (3.4 per cent of flight crew compared to 2.3 per cent in the general population), cervical (1.0 per cent compared to 0.70 per cent), gastrointestinal (0.47 per cent compared to 0.27 per cent ), and thyroid (0.67 per cent compared to 0.56 per cent). They also found that risk of non-melanoma skin cancers rose with every five years spent in the job.
Flight attendants are exposed to multiple known and probable carcinogens in the cabin environment. These include altitude-based radiation, disruption to the body clock through irregular and anti-social shift patterns and poor air quality inside the cabin.
Previous studies have shown cabin crew have some of the highest radiation exposure of any job, including those in the nuclear industry, but this exposure is not required to be routinely monitored as in other sectors. (published June 2018 by Alex-Matthews King of the Independent)