Could Flying Increase Risk of Thyroid Cancer? A New Study Says “Yes” for Flight Crew

According to a report by The Herald Scotland Online, a landmark study recently reveled flight crew to be exposed to greater than average risk of thyroid cancer. Surprisingly, the results have nothing to do with the fears many people associate with flying. Rather, the study asserts that flight crew have a significantly higher chance of experiencing thyroid, and other forms of cancer. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for additional details.

What is Thyroid Cancer?

The thyroid is a hormone producing gland located at the base of the throat. Under healthy conditions, the hormones produced by the thyroid help to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and weight. Thyroid cancer occurs when masses of unregulated, abnormal cells accumulate and grow inside the thyroid. On average, thyroid cancer occurs more frequently in women than in men. Thyroid cancer diagnoses are increasing at a greater rate than any other cancer in the United States, with roughly 14 cases for every 100,000 people each year.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer include difficulty swallowing and breathing, swollen lymph nodes, chronic cough, and a lump in the neck. Risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to radiation and certain genetic conditions.

Click here to learn more about thyroid cancer.

Frequent Fliers

Flight attendants often find themselves exposed to these risk factors more than people on the ground. Known carcinogens in their workplace include altitude-based radiation, poor air quality during flights, and disrupted or altered body rhythms due to irregular shift work. Before the ban, many flight attendants were also exposed to unusual levels of second-hand smoke.

These factors, according to the study, help to explain why flight attendants experience a greater risk of every cancer they studied. This included breast cancer, cervical cancer, and thyroid cancer among others.

The study included 5000 members of cabin crew, and accounted for variables in age. This study becomes the largest and most substantial study on how cancer affects cabin crew. The researchers say that their findings remain consistent with previous research. These results, the study says, are especially shocking given the relative good health of people employed in flight service.

Other Findings

In addition, researchers describe that every five years of in-flight service correlates to an increase in the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer among women. In the case of other studied cancers (including breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and melanoma) the length of time spent working as a flight attendant did not appear to have any effect on women as a group. It did, however, appear to have some correlation in cases where women had either never had children or had had at least three children.

The study invited any former or currently employed flight attendant from organizations within the United States to participate. All counted, the study surveyed about 5,400 crew members most of which were cabin crew still currently employed. The study did not, however, examine any of the discussed variable or effects as they relate to flight passengers.

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