For male flight attendants, the authors found higher rates of melanoma (1.2 percent of flight crew compared with 0.69 percent in the general population) and non-melanoma skin cancer (3.2 vs 2.9 percent).
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, surveyed 5,366 US flight crew members and found that slightly over 15 per cent of them reported having been diagnosed with cancer. The authors said the results were "striking" given the low rates of overweight and smoking flight attendants.
The researchers began studying flight attendants' health more than a decade ago, when they launched the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS).
Despite these known risks, flight attendants have historically been excluded from Occupational Safety and Health Administration protections typically granted to US workers.
Having three or more children-or none at all-was also a risk factor for breast cancer in female flight attendants.
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Already the United States flight attendants union released a statement on the study, saying it will "use the results to encourage airlines, airline manufacturers, and regulators to prevent exposures and change working conditions to reduce risk".
The findings suggest that additional efforts should be made in the U.S.to minimize the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation doses and organizing schedules to minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, according to the researchers. As of 2016, USA airlines employed about 116,600 flight attendants, according to federal data.
The study cannot prove what causes this increase, but the authors said increased exposure to ionising radiation from time spent in the thinner upper atmosphere as well as disrupted sleep and meal cycles could be factors. Cabin crew members are also regularly exposed to more UV radiation than the general population, which can make these workers more vulnerable to skin cancers, Mordukhovich said.
Even when flight attendants reported having stereotypically good health, diet, and exercise regimens, the likelihood that they would be stricken with certain cancers was still higher than the other survey respondents.
They compared the self-reported cancer diagnoses with figures on a matching cohort of 2,729 men and women with similar economic status collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.
Researchers have long found that flight attendants have increased the risk for breast cancer and melanoma. On average, attendants were 51 years old and had been working in the profession for just over 20 years.
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.