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Pilots/Cancer?  
User currently offlineChi-town From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 971 posts, RR: 5
Posted (10 years 10 months 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 2142 times:

I saw on tv that pilots, flight attendants, and passengers that fly frequently are more likely to get cancer because they are higher in the air and closer to the sun. I suppose this could be true. Does anyone have any comments or truth to this? I would be a little concerned if i was a pilot and this was true.

Steve

17 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineFSPilot747 From United States of America, joined Oct 1999, 3599 posts, RR: 13
Reply 1, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 2129 times:

Anyone smell that? [sniff sniff]. Smells like B.S.


FSP  Smile


User currently offline777236ER From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 2, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 2114 times:

Closer to the sun is a bit realitive considering we're about 150,000,000 km away from it. Less protection from cosmic rays, indeed Concorde has a dosimeter that'll fire off an alarm is cosmic radiation gets too high. Don't think it's ever been triggered due to actual high radiation.

That being said pilots do have a pretty decent exposure. While it probably does lead to statistically higher cases of cancer etc, the increases are very VERY small. Pilots need to watch out for sunburn though. Sat for hours every day in the sun does mean that pilots are dispropotionally more likely to get skin cancer than everyone else.


User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 2111 times:

Smells like B.S.


Well if 'FS' stands for 'Flight Simulator' then you're probably not exactly among the group of people which might be affected, which might explain your apparent lack of awareness.

The short answer is: Yes, it's been taken seriously but No, there's nothing conclusive.

It's not the closeness to the Sun that's the problem. It's the relative lack of atmospheric protection against cosmic radiation which has sparked concern in the past.

There have been studies on the matter but it's difficult to pin down whether there is a genuine cancer risk arising from cosmic radiation exposure as opposed to exposure to other aspects of the job (such as jet fuel fumes or passive smoking from passengers on smoking flights).

If you want to read a sample research paper, try this one:

http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/gesundhw/ag3/PDF/pilots.pdf

[Edited 2003-06-24 22:31:29]

User currently offlineSkymileman From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days ago) and read 2056 times:

Unless the sun has recently gained the ability to get people through the walls of an aircraft, that is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a long time.

User currently offlineLMML 14/32 From Malta, joined Jan 2001, 2565 posts, RR: 6
Reply 5, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days ago) and read 2038 times:

... indeed Concorde has a dosimeter that'll fire off an alarm is cosmic radiation gets too high. Don't think it's ever been triggered due to actual high radiation...

Yes, one Concorde flight was cancelled because of high radiation during a solar flare.



User currently offlineBackfire From Germany, joined Oct 2006, 0 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (10 years 10 months 2 days ago) and read 2025 times:

Unless the sun has recently gained the ability to get people through the walls of an aircraft, that is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a long time.


Sounds like you didn't pay much attention in physics lessons then.

We're not talking about sunlight. We're talking about high-energy cosmic rays, some of which originate from the Sun while others come from interstellar space.

A cosmic ray is a high-energy particle (usually a proton) which packs a fair punch in its own right. Getting through the atmosphere - and some do make it to the ground - is the equivalent of going through 15ft of concrete.

Now imagine that you're in an aircraft, with very little atmospheric protection. Those cosmic rays are bombarding the Earth all the time, frequently colliding with upper atmospheric particles and generating all sorts of secondary fragments.

These sorts of collisions can result in the production of gamma rays, among other things. And if you think the pathetically-thin aluminium skin on an aircraft can somehow protect you against gamma radiation then you're living in cloud cuckoo land.


User currently offlineRick767 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2000, 2662 posts, RR: 51
Reply 7, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 1966 times:

I have read conflicting research on the topic of cosmic radiation effects on aircrew. The general consensus always seemed to be that airline crew will on average be exposed to roughly the same amount of radiation on a transatlantic flight between London and New York as they would get when having a chest x-ray.

And when you have a chest x-ray, the doctor leaves the room  Wow!

More conclusive research is certainly needed but if these sort of radiation levels are accurate then that would increase flight crew susceptibility to cancer in later life.



I used to love the smell of Jet-A in the morning...
User currently offlineBobrayner From United Kingdom, joined Apr 2003, 2227 posts, RR: 7
Reply 8, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 20 hours ago) and read 1942 times:

Shall we have some numbers?  Smile

Exposure increases drastically with altitude.

I don't have any good numbers to hand, but ISTR Concorde crew typically get about 7μSv per hour. 50mSv per year is the "benchmark" upper limit for occupational exposure, so they would have to be in the air 7000 hours per year in order to reach the limit. This would be extremely unlikely!

Exposure (per hour) would be rather lower on conventional airliners.

Caveats:
1. It's very hard to collect lots of accurate data.
2. The 50mSv per year is an upper limit - above this there are known risks, but there may well be (small) risks below this threshold
3. The types of illnesses likely to be caused by repeated x-ray exposure take a long time to appear.

A series of studies have mostly shown slight increases in malignancies amongst flight crew, but it is extremely difficult to separate xrays from other environmental effects in the cabin, and also from oddities of diet / hormones / body clock disruption.



Cunning linguist
User currently offlineMilemaster From United States of America, joined Mar 2001, 1054 posts, RR: 2
Reply 9, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 1910 times:

This has turned into one of the most intelligent threads I've ever seen on airliners.net.

User currently offlinePositive rate From Australia, joined Sep 2001, 2143 posts, RR: 1
Reply 10, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 18 hours ago) and read 1869 times:

The only time it can really be dangerous is during an intense period of solar activity. Every 11 years the sun goes through an active cycle and produces many solar flares. This period is called SolarMax. If you happened to be cruising at a high FL and a large enough solar flare were to strike the Earth then you would receive a fairly large dose of radiation, although it would be nowhere near a lethal dose. The Earth's atmospehere and magnetic field protect people on the ground from solar flares, but the higher up you go the more expsoure you will get.

User currently offlineChi-town From United States of America, joined Sep 2000, 971 posts, RR: 5
Reply 11, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 17 hours ago) and read 1857 times:

Everyone, thank-you for your comments and input. I had one more question though. Should the whole cancer issue be a reason to stop me from becoming a pilot or is this a small issue that shouldn't have an effect on the decision to become a pilot? I mean, i do not want to gamble with my health.

Thanks everyone,

Steve
MDW


User currently offlineSoku39 From United States of America, joined Nov 2000, 1797 posts, RR: 9
Reply 12, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 1837 times:

Well seeing as how most pilots become 60 and still want to fly, then I really dont think there is that much to worry about. When you think about everything that "people" say causes cancer, well at the rate those things are announced we should all be dead by now. Also the radiation can't be too bad, as most married pilots I know have children.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy


The Ohio Player
User currently offlineFSPilot747 From United States of America, joined Oct 1999, 3599 posts, RR: 13
Reply 13, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 1802 times:

Backfire: unfortunately for you FS does not stand for "Flight Simulator" and I've been flying private for over 2 years. I'm not your "flightsim" analyst.

I've read works on this topic and most of the answers revolved around the fact that, if any, the effects aren't really even relevant.



FSP


User currently offlineJBirdAV8r From United States of America, joined Jun 2001, 4482 posts, RR: 22
Reply 14, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 1789 times:

Unless the sun has recently gained the ability to get people through the walls of an aircraft, that is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a long time.

I thought you said you were an NTSB investigator? Why is this so far-fetched and ridiculous to someone who allegedly has such an in-depth knowledge of airplanes?

I smell B.S., too, but I don't think it's coming from cosmic radiation.... Smile/happy/getting dizzy



I got my head checked--by a jumbo jet
User currently offlineSpitfire From France, joined Feb 2001, 801 posts, RR: 7
Reply 15, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 1741 times:

Have a look at this, could answer a lot of your question :

http://www.sievert-system.org/WebMasters/en/index.html

Rgds

Spitfire



Sabena ... Never to be forgotten (12 years already , what a shame !! )
User currently offlineBuckfifty From Canada, joined Oct 2001, 1316 posts, RR: 20
Reply 16, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 1709 times:

I've read works on this topic and most of the answers revolved around the fact that, if any, the effects aren't really even relevant.

I'd disagree with that, though what Bob Rayner has said pretty much sums up what I've read. There is a higher incidence of malignant cancer among flight crew, though again, it's very hard to separate it from other factors that the crews might have experienced throughout their lifetimes, so it's not exactly conclusive.

Yet in general, every study I've read relating to my work says I will have a higher chance to get cancer, in varying degrees. So it probably does make a difference. To what effect, I don't know.


User currently offlineGDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 13046 posts, RR: 78
Reply 17, posted (10 years 10 months 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 1674 times:

Neither a BA or AF Concorde has ever been affected by radiation at high altitude.
But the dosimeter has been triggered plenty of times, at low altitude in subsonic flight, usually by flying near nuclear facilities.
(The last one I remember was in 1999 over US airspace, turned out the source was from the former Republic Aviation facility).

However, there were some concerns in the early days, BA seriously considered not having female FAs on Concorde as it was feared they'd be more vunerable to high altitude radiation affecting their fertility.
But stewardesses were on the fleet from the start after all, and there was a bit of a baby boom amongst them, but that was due to Concorde flights allowing them more time on the ground!


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