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Cancer risk from flying: Flight personnel are increasingly suffering from cancer


New study: Cancer rate among flight personnel significantly higher

A new study has shown that flight personnel are more likely to develop certain types of cancer than the average population. Pilots and flight attendants are more likely to develop skin, breast, uterus, colon, thyroid and cervical cancer.

Health risks when traveling by air

Air travel poses a health risk for various reasons. Not only because the risk of thrombosis is increased on an airplane, but also because studies have found that there is sometimes toxic air in aircraft cabins that can cause illness. There is another danger for frequent flyers. Because, as a new study shows, flight crews are more likely to develop certain types of cancer than the average of the population.

Increased cosmic rays and UV rays

The life of a flight attendant may look glamorous, but the job also poses enormous health risks.

In their working life above the clouds, they are exposed to increased cosmic and UV radiation.

It has long been known that on-board personnel and pilots are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Scientists have also found that female flight crews get breast cancer more often.

In a new study published in the journal "Environmental Health", it has now been shown that pilots and stewardesses are also more likely to develop other forms of cancer.

Aircraft crews are more likely to develop various forms of cancer

Eileen McNeely and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health found that aircraft crews in the United States are more likely to develop various forms of cancer than the average population.

To arrive at their results, the researchers compared the information from more than 5,300 predominantly female flight attendants with the data from 5,000 participants in a national health study by the US health agency CDC.

In addition to various skin tumors, breast cancer, colon cancer, thyroid cancer, cervix and cervix occur more often in comparison with the appropriate age group of the overall study.

Higher breast cancer rate

According to the information, around 15 percent of flight personnel had been diagnosed with cancer.

According to co-author Irina Mordukhovich, a research assistant at the Harvard School of Public Health, the result is striking in terms of the low rates of overweight and smokers in this professional group.

"Something that surprised us somewhat was that we also saw a higher rate of breast cancer in women with three or more children," Mordukhovich told CNN.

Usually, the more children a woman has, the lower the risk of breast cancer.

"Women with three or more children are unlikely to get enough sleep," said Mordukhovich.

If the disturbed sleep times due to work - especially on international flights - are added, the daily sleep-wake cycle gets mixed up. And this increases the risk of cancer, as previous studies have shown.

German experts view results critically

The difference in skin cancer was also clear. According to the researchers, more than twice as many flight attendants developed melanoma, and even around four times as many other forms of skin cancer.

According to experts from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), the study findings on breast and skin cancer are not new, reports the dpa news agency. However, they should be interpreted with caution.

Increased breast cancer rates could, for example, also be related to the fact that flight attendants had fewer children overall and often relatively late. "Both factors increase the risk of breast cancer."

In addition, the BfS states that, in view of the higher skin cancer rates, it is left out how often those affected otherwise went into the sun.

According to the Office's assessment, UV radiation in aircraft is less of a hazard, and cosmic radiation is more problematic. "It depends primarily on the altitude, the flight duration and the time."

There is hardly any danger for occasional flyers

In Europe, the radiation exposure of pilots and the like is monitored and restricted so that a certain dose is not exceeded each year.

According to the BfS, the approximately 40,000 German flight attendants monitored are exposed to an average of 2.5 millisievert radiation.

According to the dpa news agency, the annual limit for people who are exposed to radiation at work is 20 millisievert.

For people who are not on the plane professionally, the risk is rather low:

“For casual pilots, like most holiday pilots, the additional radiation exposure from flying is very low and harmless to health; this also applies to pregnant women and small children, ”the BfS writes on its website. (ad)

Author and source information

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