Research/studies Workplace exposures Cancer Air Transportation

Flight attendants may have increased risk of cancer, study shows

flight attendant
Photo: gchutka/iStockphoto

Boston — Flight attendants may be at greater risk of developing several types of cancer, recent research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health indicates.

Researchers surveyed 5,366 U.S. flight attendants about their health, work experience and personal characteristics. They then compared the prevalence of cancer among the flight attendants with similar information from the survey results of approximately 5,000 U.S. residents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Results showed that flight attendants had “a higher prevalence of every cancer that was examined,” including breast cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

“Our findings of higher rates of several cancers among flight attendants is 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,” Harvard research fellow Irina Mordukhovich said in a June 25 press release.

The researchers recommend organizing flight attendants’ schedules to limit disruption of circadian rhythms and minimize exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation. They also note that cabin crews are potentially exposed to chemical contaminants on airplanes.

“The [European Union] already evaluates radiation exposure among flight attendants, which our findings show may be an important step toward lowering cancer risk among this work population,” Eileen McNeely, co-director of Harvard’s Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, said in the release.

The study was published online June 26 in the journal Environmental Health.

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