Air hostesses 'face greater cancer risk'

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Air hostesses are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as other women and are also at greater risk of skin and bone cancer and leukaemia, according to a study.

Scientists say air crew have to cope with higher radiation doses than the general population and that this may be a factor in the higher incidence of the diseases. The dose of cosmic radiation doubles with each increase in altitude of 1,500 metres.

Eero Pukkala, a researcher from the Finnish Cancer Registry, says the excess of breast cancer could be explained in part by lifestyle, class and reproductive factors, such as age at first pregnancy and the number of births. But even allowing for these factors, there was almost a twofold risk of breast cancer in women who have worked for 15 years or more as air hostesses.

In all, 1,764 cabin attendants - 1,577 women and 187 men - who had worked for Finnish airlines since 1967 took part in the study, reported in the British Medical Journal. Researchers identified 20 cases of breast cancer - more than twice that expected. The bone cancer risk was 15 times the national average. Pilots had the highest leukaemia risk of all occupations.