Cabin crew are more likely to develop a range of cancers than other people, a scientific analysis of the health of more than 5,000 flight attendants has found.
Researchers found those whose job is to make passengers feel comfortable and safe at 30,000 feet had elevated rates of several different cancers when compared with the general population, even when age was taken into account.
Breast cancer was especially prevalent among cabin crew, alongside non-melanoma skin cancers, the study published in the Environmental Health journal said.
It found that the prevalence of skin cancers was linked to the length of a flight attendant’s career.
The findings, derived by comparing a long-standing cohort of US flight attendants with other Americans, mirrored similar studies in Europe.
The study was led by the Dr Eileen McNeely of Harvard’s Department for Environmental Health.
“Despite low smoking and obesity levels indicative of positive health behaviors (sic), we report that flight attendants have elevated rates of several cancers, especially breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancers,” McNeely and her fellow authors said.
Previous research has noted that those working in the skies, especially on high-altitude, long-haul routes, have an increased exposure to cosmic radiation, similar to that of people working in nuclear power plants.
It follows growing pressure from trade unions representing cabin crew for additional safety measures onboard flights, amid fears over so-called “toxic air” and fumes.
Unite, which represents thousands of British Airways crew, among others, said the coroner of a recent inquest into the unexpected death of a flight attendant issued an “unprecedented” call for greater awareness of aerotoxic syndrome - a catch-all term for claims of ill-effects on health of breathing cabin air.
Meanwhile reports of so-called “fume events”, whereby air drawn into the cabin through an aircraft’s engines takes on particles from fuel to become toxic, are being collated as part of a campaign. But there is no suggestion that such toxic air leads to cancer and airlines and manufacturers say cabin air is safe.
EasyJet announced last year that it would trial a new filtration system on some of its Airbus aircraft “to identify unusual smell and fumes” in the cabin.