Harvard University Study Assesses Cancer Risk for Flight Attendants

A new study by researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University presents evidence that airline flight attendants have higher rates of several types of cancer including breast, uterine, and cervical cancer. More than three quarters of all flight attendants in the United States are women.

Flight attendants are exposed to several known and probable cancer risks, including cosmic ionizing radiation, disrupted sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and chemical contaminants. Researchers examined the health history of more than 5,000 flight attendants and compared those results to a random sample of 5,000 citizens who were not flight attendants. The results showed that flight attendants had a higher prevalence of every cancer that was examined.

The findings are “striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in our study population, which highlights the question of what can be done to minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew,” said Irina Mordukhovich, a research fellow at Harvard Chan School and a co-author of the paper. Dr. Mordukhovich is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she majored in biology. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The full study, “Cancer Prevalence Among Flight Attendants Compared to the General Population,” was published on the website of the journal Environmental Health. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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