Flight Attendants have a Higher Risk of Cancer. Here is why

Flight Attendants have a Higher Risk of Cancer. Here is why

Spending most of their time in the thinner atmosphere is leading flight attendants to various forms of cancer.

Traveling by air is considered the safest means of transportation as the count of airplane accidents is quite low. Despite the fact that the chances of survival are nearly non-existent in case of an accident, it is considered safe to travel through airplanes due to the negligible ratio of such horrific incidents.

Having said that, a recent study, which was published in the journal ‘Environmental Health’, indicates that flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers than the general population. This study was performed by a group of researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health under the leadership of Irina Mordukhovich, a Research Associate at the Harvard University.

The researchers analyzed the data of more than 5300 crew members from different airlines which was gathered through an online survey for the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study. On the other hand, information about a group of 2700 people, who had similar educational stature and income, was maintained for sake of comparison. It was found that the chances of different kinds of cancer increases in case of flight attendants. The exact causes for these elevated chances are still unknown but Irina came up with a possible explanation for these increased rates of cancers.

According to her, increased exposure to a lot of cancer-causing agents at flight altitude could be a major reason for this terrifying trend. Cosmic Ionizing Radiations are one of those carcinogens and their quantity increases several times at higher altitudes. They are extremely dangerous for DNA and are a well-known cause of many cancers including skin and breast cancer. Irina mentioned that in the following words:

We report a higher lifetime prevalence of breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancers among flight crew relative to the general population. This is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in this occupational group.”

Similarly, chances of cervical, thyroidal, uterine, and gastrointestinal cancers are much more in-flight attendants than the general public. Some of the other factors that might contribute to increasing these chances include poor air quality inside crew cabins and disrupted sleep and meal cycles of the flight attendants.

The findings of this study showed that both men and women flight attendants are affected by these factors but the impact was much worse in case of females. In case of women, the probability of Melanoma skin cancer increases 2 times while it elevates by a 50% for men. Similarly, the rate of Nonmelanoma skin cancer increases 4 times for women while male flight attendants have 10% more chances of developing this type of cancer than the general population.

The chances of breast cancer increase by 50% for women working as flight crew member. Following this trend, the increased risk was observed in cervical, thyroidal, and gastrointestinal cancers.

Mordukhovich also stressed the fact that Cosmic Ionizing Radiations are not the only reason for this as these crew members are also exposed to Ultra-violet radiations on a regular basis. This adds to their chances of developing skin cancers. That was a major factor which helped the researchers to conclude that the risk of cancer is directly proportional to the time you spend in this job. Other than radiations, Circadian Rhythm Disruptions, like jet lag, also play a part in increasing the risk of cancers. They change the Cell Metabolism and Immune Function of the body which affects the rate of Tumor Suppression. Last but not the least, chemical contaminations found inside the cabin can also increase the risk of some cancers as they disturb the hormonal activity. These contaminations include pesticides, flame retardants, and engine leakages.

Although this study only focused on flight attendants, Mordukhovich expressed her concerns about the pilots as well as passengers who frequently travel through this medium. She mentioned that other studies have shown greater tendencies of skin and prostate cancers in pilots as they also suffer from carcinogenic exposure and Circadian Rhythm Disruptions. However, their working schedule has a lot more protection than the attendants which gives them some cushion. In light of all that, this team of researchers has stressed the need to introduce proper occupational protections to minimize the risk of cancer among flight attendants and other people associated with this job. They proposed that radiation dosage and flight schedules should be monitored regularly to ensure the safety of the crew members.

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