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Studies Associate Flying With Melanoma Skin Cancer Risks
July 19, 2017
Did you know that a pilot flying for one hour at 30,000 feet could be exposed to the same amount of radiation had the pilot had a 20-minute tanning bed session? That is a finding in study published in The Journal of American Medical Association Dermatology. The problem, according to the authors, is that airplane windshields are commonly made of polycarbonate plastic or multilayer composite glass—materials that do very well at blocking UV-B but not all UV-A. Exposure to Ultraviolet-A radiation is a well-known to be associated with the development of melanoma.
Numerous studies have shown an increased risk of melanoma for airline pilots and flight crew. In 2015, a meta-analysis of 19 studies and a quarter of a million subjects found that airline flight crew had a 221 percent increased risk of melanoma—that’s more than a doubling of the risk of melanoma for flight crew compared to the general population. The study also found a 42 percent increased mortality rate due to melanoma compared to the general population.
Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 87,110 new melanomas will be diagnosed and about 9,730 people are expected to die of melanoma in 2017 alone.
It appears that UV exposure and the increased risk of melanoma are not well-recognized occupational risk factors for flight crew. It also appears that industry and manufacturers could do a better job insulating commercial aircraft to block UV-A and better protect pilots, crew, and passengers from the risk of cancer.
 See Ananthaswamy & Pierceall, Molecular Mechanisms of Ultraviolet Radiation Carcinogenesis, 52 Photochem Photobiol. 1119-1136 (1997).
 Sanlorenzo et al., The Risk of Melanoma in Pilots and Cabin Crew: A Meta-Analysis, 151 JAMA Dermatol. 51-58 (January 2015).
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