Topic Author
Posts: 324
Joined: Fri Dec 01, 2000 11:40 pm

Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer Among Flight Atten

Mon Nov 26, 2001 4:35 pm

Among the number of health issues that pertain to commercial
aviation that hitherto have received an inadequate degree of attention
by the flying public and the aviation authorities alike is the issue
of the increased risk of breast cancer among female cabin crew

The other day, while I was browsing through an old edition of
the British Medical journal that happened to be lying around in
the environs of the office that I have been working for the past few
months, I came across an epidemiological study that tried to assess
the increased risk posed to stewardesses by flying. There was
something in the way of epidemiological evidence to suggest that
stewardesses are at increased risk, that in the opinion of the author
could be explained by three main causes - the first being the
chemicals present in the vicinity of the cabin environment, statistical
bias, or cosmic radiation.Of these three possible causes the last struck
me as being the most plausible.

The fact is that as aircraft ascend through the atmosphere, the degree
of protection afforded by the atmosphere decreases dramatically.Not
only this, but the higher altitude also increases exponentially the
degree of exposure to ionizing radiation, including ultraviolet light,
the role of which in initiating a number of different types of cancer
is well documented.So it comes as no surprise that the possibility
that stewardesses, particularly those who take up long haul flying
as a long term careers could conceivably be at higher risk for
developing breast cancer.

The first time I came across this issue when, in a casual glance through
a column through the prestigious Conde Nast Traveller magazine,
I happened to chance upon an article on aviation health that stated that
stewardesses have a twofold risk of developing breast cancer as in
comparison with the rest of the population.Considering that in the
United States, an average woman has a one in ten chance of developing
breast cancer, the epidemiological implications of such a fact ( or assertion,
were such an statement to be erroneous ) cannot be overestimated.
At that moment in time, I cannot claim that I was struck by a bolt from
the blue, as I was tempted to think of the statement in terms of denial.
And it was not too hard to understand my skepticism - after all it
provided us with no hard facts based on large scale studies or follow
up studies - all we were provided was a simple cold hard fact.It did not
take into consideration the fact that some stewardesses fly for more years
than others and that some fly predominatly short haul as opposed to long
haul flights.That stewardesses who fly routinely over the North Pole
are exposed to a greater degree of exposure to cosmic rays than, say
stewardesses who fly over tropical or equatorial regions for the most
part was not taken into consideration - indeed, as I mentioned earlier,
all we were provided with was a simple cold hard fact.

My opinion is that despite the lack of large scale studies that provide
evidence that makes us believe that stewardesses are at significantly
higher risk of breast cancer than the population as a whole, the aviation
world need not await the advent of any such information as the reason
for action.Indeed, speculation, no matter how scanty the research that
exists to validate it is reason enough for action on the part of the aviation
authorities, including the airline authorities itself.

There can be no denying the far reaching implications of dissemination
of information of such a disturbing nature.Witness the intensity of the
debate emanating from the issue of Deep Vein Thrombosis on long haul
flights that emerged almost overnight following the tragic death of a
British national following her disembarking from a flight from Australia.
However, it should be understood that breast cancer is far more common
that DVT, and for this reason the implications are very serious.

For instance, would it be advisable for airlines to inform potential cabin
crew that were they to find a strong family history of breast cancer,
they would be ill advised to work as flight attendants.Should airlines
know the risks of long term flying, would it be acceptable for
stewardesses to sue the airlines for not providing sufficient information
in the event of them falling ill? Where do the insurance companies come
in ? What would be the reaction of the unions were they to find out that
elevated breast cancer risks for stewardesses were an issue their employers
had information about - that they knowingly or otherwise chose to downplay.
Given the fact that a number of family members of individuals who died
as a result of DVT are now suing the airlines for wrongful death as a result
of their decision to conceal information that could have been potentially
life-saving for their loved ones, all these questions are from being irrelevant.

It is not necessary, as I mentioned earlier for extensive research to be
undertaken in this area.Merely the speculation that an epidemiological
link may be plausible, together with the scientifically proven facts of
the relationship between malignancy of the breast and radiation should
be grounds in itself for acttion.

Were the airlines to provide information on the aetiology of DVT as
soon as speculation in this area had commenced in scientific circles,
thousands of lives might potentially have been saved.Likewise, if
action to adequately protect stewardesses from the health risks
of flying over a long time were to be taken, the possibility that
excess cases of breast cancer among this group could be averted,
should in my opinion at least be justification enough for meaningful
discourse on this subject.The magnitude of this problem should not
be underestimated... I read somewhere that there are no less than
100000 flight attendants in the US alone.Given the fact that in that
country one in ten women will develop breast cancer at some time
of their life, and that Conde Nast Traveller magazine reported on
female stewardess having a twofold risk of being struck by what
is often a killer disease, it takes little more than a little arithmetic
to understand the necessity for a little action and a lot of research.

So what is the solution.I believe that complex problems can have
at times deceptively simple solutions. If stewardesses could be
required or at least be recommended to wear brassieres or vests
under their uniform that block out cosmic rays, it could offer
a simple, cheap and convenient solution.As a medical student, I
recall that whenever we used to go the angioplasty department
we would have to wear heavy overalls that were made of radio-
opaque material that covered our torsos and neck. Also male
staff were required to wear radiolucent sheets around their
legs to protect their gonads from the excess radiation emanating
from the radiation machines. ( The jokes that we were subject to
by the consultants as a result of the latter fact I won't go into. )
My point is this - if we could convince the airlines that even
tentative evidence suggesting increased risk to stewardesses
as a result of long term flying is justification enough for providing
them with radioopaque brassiere or vests under their uniforms
the increased incidence among this group of breast cancer would
be tackled even before it emerged as an issue among the aviation
authorities.Even saving a relatively small number of lives by doing
this would be well worth the cost and effort.
Posts: 155
Joined: Sat Nov 10, 2001 3:42 pm

RE: Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer Among Flight Atten

Mon Nov 26, 2001 4:43 pm

Help your next flight attendant.

Offer breast examinations.

I'm sure they will appreciate it.
Posts: 1592
Joined: Sun Aug 22, 1999 5:41 pm

RE: Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer Among Flight Atten

Mon Nov 26, 2001 5:05 pm

I would put my money on oestrogens from hormone replacement therapy, or "the pill", or foods very high in phytoestrogens.

john S.
Topic Author
Posts: 324
Joined: Fri Dec 01, 2000 11:40 pm

RE: Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer Among Flight Atten

Mon Nov 26, 2001 6:08 pm

Help your next flight attendant.

Offer breast examinations.

I'm sure they will appreciate

Please remember this is a serious health issue...please could we keep this a serious, not lewd discussion.
Posts: 9973
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2001 10:12 pm

RE: Increased Risk Of Breast Cancer Among Flight Atten

Mon Nov 26, 2001 6:20 pm

to me it sounded just like another American lawyer trying to find something to sue someone over...
Sure there is a potential increased risk of cancer due to radiation levels at altitude, but the total radiation received is well short of the legal maximum (as set for among others nuclear powerplant workers). If radiation were dangerously high, not only breast cancer incidences would be higher but other cancers as well.

20 years ago or so, it was suggested that tight clothes could cause breastcancer... Maybe those tight uniforms are the cause?  Innocent
I wish I were flying

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