Airplane Crew May Face Increased Melanoma Risk

Airline pilots and crews may be at increased risk for melanoma, a new review has found.

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer that starts in the melanocytes, the cells that produce skin pigment. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about 76,000 cases and 10,000 deaths a year from the disease in the United States.

The analysis, online at JAMA Dermatology, used data from 19 studies that included more than 266,000 subjects. It found that airline crews had about twice the incidence of melanoma as the general population, and a melanoma death rate 42 percent higher.

The authors acknowledged that all the studies were observational, and that most were retrospective. In addition, they did not account for skin type; it may be that fair-skinned people, who are more subject to melanoma, are more likely to work in flight-related occupations.

The reason is unclear, but ultraviolet A radiation exposure, which at 30,000 feet is twice what it is on the ground, is a well-established risk factor for melanoma, and airplane window glass blocks it only minimally.

“At 30,000 feet, the amount of UVA radiation that gets through is considerable,” said the senior author, Dr. Susana Ortiz-Urda, a director of the melanoma center at the University of California, San Francisco. “Sunscreen protection is important, and skin checks once a year should be a part of health screening.”



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