It also has a more than double risk for aggressive skin cancer (melanoma) and a fourfold risk for other types of skin cancer other than melanoma. These data were then compared with the data received from a survey done on a group of people not belonging to the airline occupation.
The lead author of that study, Dr. Lynne Pinkerton of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, didn't rule out the possibility that altitude-related radiation exposure or disrupted sleep cycles might be connected to cancer.
Taking age into account, the study found a higher prevalence of cancer in flight crew for every type of cancer examined.
Eighty percent of the study participants were female, which makes sense given the profession is still over 75% female-dominated.
These included those of the breast (3.4% against 2.3%), womb (0.15% against 0.13%), cervix (1% compared to 0.7%), gastrointestines (0.47% compared to 0.27%) and thyroid (0.67% compared to 0.56%). Job tenure was linked to non-melanoma skin cancer among women, with borderline associations for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer among men.
Researchers followed more than 5,000 crew and found that their risk of breast cancer increased more than 50 per cent, while risks of stomach cancers are raised by as much as 74 per cent.
"But we were surprised to replicate a recent finding that exposure to work as a flight attendant was related to breast cancer exclusively among women with three or more children", she said.
Working as a flight attendant significantly increases your risk of a range of cancers compared to the general population, a major study of cabin crew has found. They are also exposed to higher levels of cosmic ionizing radiation; the World Health Organization says this is a cancer risk.
Other studies have linked shift work and disrupted circadian clocks to higher risk of breast and prostate cancers, possibly due to a reduced ability of DNA to fix itself and the way circadian rhythm processes may be connected to immune function.
Their ongoing research project, called the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS), began collecting self-reported medical data from 5,366 flight attendants in 2007. Other concerns include the myriad substances cabin crews are exposed to because of engine leaks, pesticides, and flame retardants, all three of which are suspected carcinogens.
In Europe, flight attendants' exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation is monitored and limited more by law. They also observed that women cabin crew members have an increased risk of developing breast, melanoma, and non-melanoma cancer. Some of her patients have been exposed to fume events, other exhibit similar symptoms from repeated exposure to cabin air.
What about customers who are frequent fliers?
Some 3.4% of the women who flew for a living had breast cancer, compared with 2.3% in the general population.
PPG Aerospace recently unveiled a new transparency film that can be applied to cockpit and cabin windows to prevent harmful UVA, UVB, and HEVBLUE rays from entering the aircraft.