Flight Into Cancer


A perk of being a flight attendant is all the travelling they get to do, but one major downside is their increased risk for cancer. Both men and women flight attendants have higher rates of cancers of the breast, skin, thyroid, colon, stomach, esophagus, liver and pancreas.

What cabin crews are exposed to more than any other job in the US is cosmic ionizing radiation. The stars and sun send out a constant stream of cosmic radiation composed of high-energy subatomic particles. The particles that get through earth's atmosphere can penetrate deeply into our tissues and damage DNA. The radiation can break chemical bonds in DNA as well as form highly reactive free radicals which damage molecules even after the radiation has stopped.

In this recent study, fifty-three hundred flight attendants from a variety of airlines completed a survey. It measured their rates of cancer in comparison with twenty seven hundred people with similar income and educational status but were not flight attendants. The rate of breast cancer among female flight attendants was fifty percent higher. Their rates of melanoma and non- melanoma skin cancers were also two and four times higher. Male flight attendants had fifty percent higher rates of melanoma and higher numbers of prostate cancer.

Even though pilots and flight crews are now officially classified as radiation workers by the Federal Aviation Administration, they're not monitored for radiation exposure. Nor are their exposures regulated. Perhaps that needs to change.

More Information

Cancer prevalence among flight attendants compared to the general population
Flight attendants are an understudied occupational group, despite undergoing a wide range of adverse job-related exposures, including to known carcinogens. In our study, we aimed to characterize the prevalence of cancer diagnoses among U.S. cabin crew relative to the general population...

Why Cancer Rates Are Higher in Flight Attendants
Flight attendants may have a higher risk of a number of cancers, a new study finds. Researchers found that women and men on U.S. cabin crews have higher rates of many types of cancer, compared with the general population...

Known and Probable Human Carcinogens
Many people worry that substances or exposures in their environment may cause cancer. As part of the American Cancer Society's role in informing and educating people about cancer and its possible causes, this document provides lists of substances and exposures that are known or suspected to cause cancer...