Chi-town
Topic Author
Posts: 893
Joined: Fri Sep 08, 2000 1:29 am

Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 5:12 am

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
 
fspilot747
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 5:16 am

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


FSP  Smile
 
777236ER
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 5:21 am

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.
Your bone's got a little machine
 
backfire
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 5:27 am

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]
 
skymileman
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 6:10 am

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.
 
lmml 14/32
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 6:27 am

... 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.

 
backfire
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 6:33 am

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.
 
Rick767
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 9:19 am

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...
 
bobrayner
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 9:40 am

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
 
milemaster
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 11:07 am

This has turned into one of the most intelligent threads I've ever seen on airliners.net.
 
POSITIVE RATE
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 12:26 pm

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.
 
Chi-town
Topic Author
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 12:45 pm

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
 
Soku39
Posts: 1731
Joined: Fri Nov 03, 2000 7:16 am

RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 2:01 pm

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
 
fspilot747
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 3:34 pm

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
 
JBirdAV8r
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 4:03 pm

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
 
Spitfire
Posts: 697
Joined: Sat Feb 17, 2001 2:16 am

RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 10:00 pm

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 !! )
 
buckfifty
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Wed Jun 25, 2003 11:18 pm

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.
 
GDB
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RE: Pilots/Cancer?

Thu Jun 26, 2003 12:51 am

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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