Flight Attendants May Be At More Risk Of Cancer Than Most

A new Harvard study reveals flight attendants in the U.S. have an increased risk of some cancers.

Researchers looked at cancer rates of over 5,000 flight attendants compared to their peers in the general public.

They found flight attendants were more likely to develop breast, uterine, thyroid, gastrointestinal and cervical cancer.

They also had higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancers.

Experts say disrupted sleep cycles and exposure to radiation and other airplane chemicals may be to blame.

Dr. Justin Wray, a radiation oncologist at Methodist Dallas said the amount of cosmic radiation exposure during a flight from New York to Los Angeles is comparable to the exposure of a chest x-ray.

"That is actually a low exposure, but compounded over hundreds of flights a year, could add up significantly," said Dr. Wray.

Esther McKenna, a breast cancer survivor and former flight attendant, now wonders if her battle was linked to her work.

She was a flight attendant for 30 years before she was diagnosed.

"It never occurred to me that being a flight attendant, in those days, a stewardess, would have anything to do with it," said McKenna.

"It makes me wonder about all these women and men who came after to me. Are they more susceptible to it now too?"

The findings have the country's largest flight attendants union calling for change.

“Neither OSHA nor the FAA require airlines to educate flight attendants about on-board radiation exposure or offer protections during pregnancy, cabin air can be contaminated, and cabin crew fatigue is prevalent,” said the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, in a statement. 

“That is unacceptable and we won’t stop working to fix it.”

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