Friday, 5 September 2014 | MYT 12:00 AM

Airline crew more likely to get skin cancer

Scientists believe that flight crew, and maybe even frequent fliers, have a higher risk of skin cancer from UV exposure. - Filepic

Scientists believe that flight crew, and maybe even frequent fliers, have a higher risk of skin cancer from UV exposure. - Filepic

Pilots and flight attendants may be at an increased risk of developing the most deadly form of skin cancer, suggests a new analysis.

While the study cannot pinpoint why flight crews are at higher risk, the researchers suggest it could be the result of greater exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes damage to the DNA in skin cells, at high altitudes.

Beauties in the air, as seen in this cast photo of the short-lived Pan Am TV series, may not be smiling if they knew about the increased risk of skin cancer.

“This is very worrisome and awareness needs to increase and protective measurements must be undertaken,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Martina Sanlorenzo from the University of California, San Francisco.

Pilots and other members of the cabin crew should be aware of the increased risk, she says. Additionally, they should get skin checks and protect themselves from UV radiation.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, Sanlorenzo and her colleagues write in JAMA Dermatology. Over 3.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancers in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society. About 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, which is the type of skin cancer that is most likely to lead to death.

Past studies have suggested that airline pilots and other flight crew are prone to getting more skin cancers, but the association was poorly understood, the researchers write.

For the new analysis, they combined data from 19 previous studies published between 1990 and 2013. In total, they had data on over a quarter million people.

The researchers used a measure known as standardised incidence ratio, which helps gauge whether the cancer cases observed among specific groups of people are more or less than what would be expected in the general population. According to the National Cancer Institute, the average American has about a 2% risk of developing melanoma during his or her lifetime.

Among participants in the 19 studies, the researchers found that melanoma was about twice as common among pilots and flight crew than would be expected in the general population.

The researchers caution that they can’t say why cabin crews may be more likely to develop melanoma. It could be due to greater exposure to solar radiation as altitude increases and the protective barrier of the atmosphere thins. There may, however, be other unknown factors among cabin crews, apart from UV exposure, that affect their melanoma risk, the study team writes.

Perhaps even Borg technology cannot shield the UV radiation flight crews are exposed to. Which may explain why Jeri Ryan looks so sad in this screen grab from the movie Down With Love.

The researchers don’t have any data on airplane passengers, but Sanlorenzo notes that “frequent flyers that fly as often as cabin crew should get regular skin checks and protect themselves from UV radiation.”

She suggested that the US Federal Aviation Administration should take more measurements of how much UV radiation pilots and cabin crews are exposed to inside commercial planes, versus, for example, aircraft with special radiation-blocking windows.

“A prospective study could be done studying melanoma incidence in pilots/cabin crew flying airplanes where windows block UVA and UVB (radiation) entirely,” she says.

UVA and UVB radiation from the sun damage skin-cell DNA and are partly responsible for skin aging and for promoting skin cancer. – Reuters

How to spot the spot

Early detection is key when it comes to skin cancers, even melanomas. Take a look at the video below on the types of skin cancer and what they look like. This would make it easier for you to spot them on your body. 

Next, watch the second video to find out about the relationship between sunburns and skin cancer.

Tags / Keywords: Skin cancer , cancer , melanoma , risk , airline crew , pilots , research , UV rays , diagnosis , high risk of cancer , exposure to sun , exposure


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