Cancer prevalence among flight attendants compared to the general population

Environ Health. 2018 Jun 26;17(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s12940-018-0396-8.


Background: Flight attendants are an understudied occupational group, despite undergoing a wide range of adverse job-related exposures, including to known carcinogens. In our study, we aimed to characterize the prevalence of cancer diagnoses among U.S. cabin crew relative to the general population.

Methods: In 2014-2015, we surveyed participants of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study. We compared the prevalence of their self-reported cancer diagnoses to a contemporaneous cohort in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2013-2014) using age-weighted standardized prevalence ratios (SPRs). We also analyzed associations between job tenure and the prevalence of selected cancers, using logistic regression and adjusting for potential confounders.

Results: Compared to NHANES participants with a similar socioeconomic status (n = 2729), flight attendants (n = 5366) had a higher prevalence of every cancer we examined, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer among females. SPR for these conditions were 1.51 (95% CI: 1.02, 2.24), 2.27 (95% CI: 1.27, 4.06), and 4.09 (95% CI: 2.70, 6.20), respectively. Job tenure was positively related to non-melanoma skin cancer among females, with borderline associations for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers among males. Consistent with previous studies, we observed associations between job tenure and breast cancer among women who had three or more children.

Conclusions: We observed higher rates of specific cancers in flight attendants compared the general population, some of which were related to job tenure. Our results should be interpreted in light of self-reported health information and a cross-sectional study design. Future longitudinal studies should evaluate associations between specific exposures and cancers among cabin crew.

Keywords: Cancer; Environmental health; Flight attendants; Occupational epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Aviation*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult