Researchers found that women and men on US cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population.
Fiering, who was not involved in the study but conducts research on flight attendants, said he found the higher rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among women in the study "striking" - "especially to see a close to four-fold increase in non-melanoma skin cancer; that is substantial", he said.
Scientists said the findings, including the first results into an elevated rate of non-melanoma skin cancer, are particularly worrying considering the relative good health of the flight attendants included in the sample.
"At work most of the things are decided for you", said Irina Mordukhovich, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the study's corresponding author.
Other studies have found higher rates of deaths from cancer among cabin crew and higher rates of specific diseases such as chronic bronchitis and cardiac disease in flight attendants than the general population. These data were then compared with the data received from a survey done on a group of people not belonging to the airline occupation.
Having no children was a known risk factor, noted Mordukhovich.
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And it was only associated with higher risk of breast cancer in women who either had never had children - nulliparity - or had three or more.
Any current or former United States flight attendant was eligible to participate in the study, with the vast majority (91%) now employed in a cabin crew role. The analysis looked at the cancer rates in these flight attendants compared to a group of about 2,700 people who had a similar income and educational status but were not flight attendants.
However, according to Reuters, flight attendants are still less likely to die of all causes (except from a plane crash) than the general population. Flight attendants are more often exposed to probable carcinogens in the cabin environment including cosmic ionizing radiation at flight altitude.
In addition, some studies have found that circadian rhythm disruptions, such as jet lag, might be linked with an increased risk of cancer, she said.
"This may be due to combined sources of circadian rhythm disruption - sleep deprivation and irregular schedules - both at home and at work". Over 80% of the flight crew whose data were analyzed in the study were female; they were 51.5 years old on average and had been in the profession for just over 20 years.
The survey used validated questions from the Job Content Questionnaire and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Other concerns include the myriad substances cabin crews are exposed to because of engine leaks, pesticides, and flame retardants, all three of which are suspected carcinogens. This despite cabin crew being generally less overweight and less likely to smoke than non-crew.
Unions for flight attendants at Southwest and American airlines identified crew fatigue as a top health issue that needs to be addressed, something the pending Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill could do with required minimum rest times.