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HEALTH | Work Safety

Study suggests higher cancer rates for flight attendants


Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 4:15 PM - Flight attendants may be at a higher risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast, uterus, cervix, thyroid and skin, according to a new US-focused study.

Researchers of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston asked 5,366 flight attendants and 2,729 other adults with comparable socioeconomic backgrounds if they had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

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According to the survey, flight attendants were 51 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, twice as likely to develop melanoma and more than four times more likely to be diagnosed with another form of skin cancer.

“Non-melanoma skin cancer among women increased with more years on the job, suggesting a work-related association,” lead study author Eileen McNeely McNeely told CNN via email.

The results align with previous research that draws a link between cancer and flight attendants, but the exact reasons are unknown. It's theorized it could be due to a number of factors, including: naturally-occurring radiation at high altitudes, shift work, frequent time zone changes, and poor cabin air quality.

The skin cancer risk could be due to prolonged sun exposure during layovers, while higher breast cancer risks could be because the survey participants were having fewer children and having them later in life, both of which are known breast cancer risk factors.

The study didn't account for whether or not tumors developed before participants began working as flight attendants and it only looked at diagnoses and did not track survival rates.

Researchers say more analysis is needed to determine if the elevated risk factor is directly, or indirectly, associated with the work.

The findings were published last month in Environmental Health Online.

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