Although it's been long known that flight attendants are at higher risk of breast cancer and melanoma, new research has found an increase risk in the following additional cancers:

  • non-melanoma (basal cell and squamous cell)
  • thyroid
  • cervical
  • uterine
  • gastrointestinal

Researchers from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, led by research associate, Irina Mordukhovich, surveyed over 5000 flight attendants as part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study (FAHS) and found a four-fold risk in non-melanoma skin cancer, a two-fold risk in melanoma, and a 51% greater risk of breast cancer, among other malignancy risks.

Those flight attendants with three or more children had even a higher risk of breast cancer.

TIME Magazine reported the following:

“Flight attendants are considered a historically understudied occupational group, so there is a lot we don’t know about their health,” says Mordukhovich. “What we do know for sure is the exposures that both pilots and flight attendants have—the main one being high radiation levels because of cosmic radiation at altitude.” That exposure may not be concerning for people taking individual flights, but for people whose jobs involve flying, that risk may have a negative effect on their health, as the study results suggest.

A 2007 study found an increase risk of heart attacks, respiratory illness, poor sleep, depression and anxiety in cabin crew.

What’s surprising is the average flight attendant does not smoke and maintains a healthy weight, hence thought to live a healthier lifestyle, decreasing heart and cancer risk.  So….

Why are flight attendants at increased risk?

 

Multiple factors can affect those who work high in the skies. These include:

  • cosmic ionizing radiation (radiation coming from outer space with higher levels in the upper earth’s atmosphere)
  • solar radiation from sun flares
  • disruption of their sleep cycle, circadian rhythm (long linked to cancer)
  • exposure to chemicals such as jet fuel, flame retardants and other chemicals.
  • constant exposure to pathogens and communicable diseases (link to cancer not yet determined)
  • not being able to maintain regular hydration and diet

 

airline.jpg

 

How can flight attendants protect themselves?

 

It’s difficult for those who staff airlines to alter their schedule, diet or uniform.  But what’s recommended is the following:

  • wear sunscreen
  • wear long sleeves and skirts/pants
  • maintain good hydration and a regular diet
  • try to ask for regular shifts that allow one to sleep regular cycles
  • if at higher genetic risk for some cancers (BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations) see your medical provider about recommended screening.

The CDC recommends the following:

  • Try to reduce your time working on very long flights, flights at high latitudes, or flights which fly over the poles. These are flight conditions or locations that tend to increase the amount of cosmic radiation the crewmembers are exposed to. You can calculate your usual cosmic radiation exposures. The FAA’s CARI program website allows you to enter information to estimate your effective dose from galactic cosmic radiation (not solar particle events) for a flight.

  • If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, it is important to consider your work exposures, including cosmic radiation. If you are pregnant and aware of an ongoing solar particle event when you are scheduled to fly you may want to consider trip-trading or other rescheduling actions if possible.

    • For flight attendants, a NIOSH study found that exposure to 0.36 mSv or more of cosmic radiation in the first trimester may be linked to increased risk of miscarriage.

    • Also, although flying through a solar particle event doesn’t happen often, a NIOSH and NASA study found that a pregnant flight attendant who flies through a solar particle event can receive more radiation than is recommended during pregnancy by national and international agencies.

  • Regarding solar particle events:

Are travelers at risk?

 

Experts have suggested that those who are frequent fliers are still at low risk of being exposed to “too much radiation”.  Traveller.au.com writes: Overall, the amount “is really inconsequential,” said Dr. Edward Dauer, director of radiology at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, adding that medical CT scans result in a much higher dose.

Read more:

 

Flight risk: how much radiation do planes expose you to?

 

Therefore medical professionals may suggest flying “in moderation” and checking in for regular check ups.

How can I check my radiation dose?

 

The American Nuclear Society provides a calculator, based on where one lives, how many x-rays, and how many hours one flies, here.

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Daliah Wachs is a guest contributor to GCN news. Doctor Wachs is an MD,  FAAFP and a Board Certified Family Physician.  The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00 pm (all central times) at GCN.

 

Published in Health
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The backtracking of Sun Country Airlines

Oh, how a few days of extremely bad press will get a CEO to do the right thing. Last week the Midwest was bombarded with another snow storm and several states slowed down. And I mean, everything pretty much ground to a halt. Especially the airports. Flights were cancelled all day long while the gods above sent two feet of snow to cover our Midwest lands.

 

Sun Country Airlines is based out of Eagan, MN and, just like all the other airlines affected by the snowstorm, they had to cancel flights for a variety of reasonable issues - employees couldn’t get to work, planes couldn’t take off, visibility issues, landing issues, etc, etc.

 

That’s not news. That’s just what happens when twenty four inches of snow blows up your state. The specific hot water Sun Country found themselves drowning in is related to about 250 passengers that the Airlines left stranded in Mexico following the blizzard. Apparently, the flights scheduled to carry the Americans home were the “last flights of the season” and they refused to extend their schedule or pay for the fuel to send another flight to bring the stranded passengers home and sent them a, “We’ll refund your ticket price but we’re not coming to get you. You’ll have to find another way home. Good luck!”

 

I mean. Wow. Just think about that. Sun Country Airlines actually told their customers that not only was the airlines leaving them stranded in a foreign country but it wasn’t even going to offer to assist them finding new flights home.

 

I don’t know about you but now that I know Sun Country will leave me stranded in a foreign country for reasons - I will not ever give them my money. Like, never. Ever.

 

Obviously, the customers turned to the social media to vent. Many of them had to spend thousand of extra dollars to buy a last second ticket in order to get home. Sun Country’s reimbursement for the tickets customer’s had already bought will, like all returns, take several days to process. But even once a customer received their refund for their original ticket - no way will it cover the cost of purchasing a last second brand new ticket.

 

And then both MN Senators send letters to Sun Country Airlines demanding an explanation and the customer relations nightmare began. Well it took a couple days but the social media blitz worked. Sun Country, after suffering horrendous amounts of negative press and loss of business - is going to do the right thing.

 

Funny how that works, huh? Sun Country made a business decision to not spend money on fuel to send new empty flights to go pick up stranded passengers because it wouldn’t be “cost effective” and now have lost incalculable amounts of money through negative coverage and bad will against the company.

 

Sun Country’s brand new CEO, Jude Bricker sent out a company wide email a few days after the idiotic decision he made to strand the passengers in the first place. The email is overly long and defensive, you can read the full text here but it’s very nauseating to read that condescending "corporate speak" sorry / not sorry apology. The gist of it though is, “But hey, we did some things right and our contract says we technically don’t have to do anything for you if you’re stranded. So, I mean - there’s that. And we can’t control the weather. You know? And some of our flights got home. So that’s good - we rock! I guess we need to work on our customer communication. Maybe that might be a super tiny (not really big deal at all) issue. I’m not saying it’s a problem though! But, maybe, like - a tiny, tiny, tiny issue.  So, we’ll reimburse SOME of the costs that customers spent getting home. Sun Country Airlines forever!”

 

Sorry Bricker. You lost me for life.  If they fire you. Maybe I’ll come back. But don’t hold your breath.

 

Published in News & Information