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Flight Attendants Have Higher Risk Of Breast, Skin, And Other Types Of Cancer

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Flight attendants appear to have a glamorous job but findings of a new study suggest that their occupation comes with health hazards. They are also more vulnerable to developing many types of cancer.

High Prevalence Of Cancer

Researchers have long found that flight attendants have increased the risk for breast cancer and melanoma. Now, researchers of a study published in the journal Environmental Health showed that flight attendance also has a high prevalence of a number of other cancers, which include gastrointestinal, non-melanoma skin cancer, uterine, cervical and thyroid cancers.

Irina Mordukhovich, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues looked at the data of self-reported cancer cases of flight attendants in the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study and then compared these with those recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers found that flight attendants tend to have higher incidents of all cancers they investigated than the general population despite good-health behaviors such as low levels of smoking and obesity. They also observed that women cabin crew members have an increased risk of developing breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma cancer.

"We report that flight attendants have elevated rates of several cancers, especially breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancers," the researchers wrote in their study. "Some of these cancers were also related to tenure as a flight attendant, overall or within subgroups of parity in the case of breast cancer."

Factors That Make Flight Attendants Vulnerable To Cancer

Mordukhovich and colleagues also made another surprising discovery. Having at least three children or none at all appears to be a risk factor for breast cancer in female flight attendants. Women with more children typically have the lower risk of breast cancer but this isn't the case in women cabin crews.

"Something that somewhat surprised us, to some extent, was that we also saw a higher instance of breast cancer in women with three or more children," Mordukhovich said, adding that flight attendants with three or more children possibly do not get enough sleep.

"Combine that with this disruption from the job, especially for those who fly internationally, this may be an indication that the circadian rhythm disruption is having an impact."

Studies have already shown that disruptions in the circadian rhythm are associated with increased risk for cancer.

The high cancer rate may also be attributed to carcinogens such as cosmic ionizing radiation, a known cause of breast cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer, which is elevated at higher altitudes.

Flight attendants receive the highest yearly dose of ionizing radiation among U.S. workers. They are also more regularly exposed to more UV radiation, making them vulnerable to skin cancer.

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