A new study entitled “The Risk of Melanoma in Airline Pilots and Cabin Crew” published in the JAMA Dermatology journal has found that pilots and cabin crew members are 2.22 and 2.09 times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than the general public, respectively.
Because working at 40,000 feet implies a far greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation, there have been many different studies trying to assess the risk of melanoma in flight crews.
In this new analysis, researchers from UC San Francisco gathered data from 266,431 participants in 19 published studies (PubMed 1966 to October 30, 2013, Web of Science 1898 to January 27, 2014, and Scopus 1823 to January 27, 2014), to determine if this danger really exists and to what extent it increases the risk of melanoma. All studies reporting a standardized incidence ratio (SIR), standardized mortality ratio (SMR), or data on expected and observed cases of melanoma or death caused by melanoma that could be used to calculate an SIR or SMR in any flight-based occupation, were included in the analysis.
The results showed that the risk of developing melanoma for pilots and flight attendants was more than double the risk for people who worked on the ground. Nonetheless, only pilots had an increased 83% mortality risk.
Furthermore, cosmic radiation is unlikely to be a factor for melanoma. Even though many studies have measured the amount of cosmic radiation that enters inside a plane, this amount was proven to be below the allowed dose limit of 20 millisieverts per year.
The study also found that less than 1% of UVB radiation can penetrate a plane’s windshield, while UVA can penetrate glass, increasing its intensity the higher the plane flies. Moreover, the amount of UVA radiation is significantly increased when planes fly above clouds or snow-covered mountains, which can reflect this type of radiation.
The authors conclude that the more hours a member of the flight crew spends flying, the more likely he or she is to be diagnosed with melanoma, highlighting that further research on mechanisms and optimal occupational protection is necessary.