Major Health Risks of Being a Flight Attendant

Flight Attendant

Flight attendant | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that having a job as a flight attendant can pose major risks. However, the health risks are a lot scarier than you’d think. According to Business Insider’s analysis of data from the Department of Labor, it’s No. 8 out of the “top 47 jobs most damaging to your health” in the United States.

They looked at exposure to contaminants, disease and infection, hazardous conditions, and radiation. They also evaluated risk of minor burns, cuts bites, and stings, as well as time spent sitting. In total, flight attendants were given an “unhealthiness score” of 62.3 out of 100.

“A flight attendant working in close quarters with passengers is more likely to catch an infectious disease than a lawyer working in an office,” the analysis found.

Now, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health, cancer is reportedly one of the most major health risks of being on a flight crew. Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted the study, who found that “flight attendants were more likely to have cancer than the general population.”

The authors of the study compared self-reported data from 5,366 U.S. flight attendants to data from the general population, including 2,729 men and women. They evaluated female flight attendants for breast cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, and thyroid cancer. Meanwhile, they evaluated male flight attendants for melanoma skin cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer.

Their findings concluded that for each type of cancer, flight crews were at a higher risk than the general population. Newser reported on the most significant results:

Female flight attendants had rates of breast cancer about 50% higher than women who weren’t flight attendants; they also had melanoma rates more than two times higher and non-melanoma skin cancer rates about four times higher. And male flight attendants had melanoma rates of almost 50% higher than the general population of males and non-melanoma skin cancer rates of about 10% higher. Air cabin crew members were also found to have higher rates of cancers of the cervix, thyroid, and uterus, as well as gastrointestinal system cancers including colon, stomach, esophageal, liver, and pancreatic cancers.

Flight Attendant

Flight attendant talking with a passenger | Ruben Ramos/iStock/Getty Images

According to Science Alert, a major factor stems from the fact that “flight attendants are more often exposed to probable carcinogens in the cabin environment including cosmic ionizing radiation at flight altitude.”

Plus, “They may also experience circadian-rhythm disruption caused by irregular work schedules and time-zone shifts. Poor cabin air quality and high levels of second-hand tobacco smoke before in-flight smoking bans were implemented may also contribute to cancer risk.”

Irina Mordukhovich, an author of the study, noted, “In the EU, air crew’s radiation exposures are monitored and their schedules are created to minimize their dose, especially while pregnant. Similar policies are not in place in the U.S.”

“Another area of concern is crews’ schedules with regard to circadian rhythm adjustment.” That includes “mandated rest times between flights,” she added.

Some precautions against cancer can be taken for flight attendants. According to ScienceAlert, Mordukhovich advised “wearing sunscreen on the aircraft to protect from UV rays.” She also recommends “maintaining healthy and consistent sleep practices on their days off, as well as eating a healthy diet and exercising.”

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