Cancer warning: How often do you fly? Flying can put you at a greater risk warns the CDC


One in two people will get cancer during their lifetime but the risk is not the same for everyone. You can modify your level of exposure to the deadly disease. That is a profound insight because it enables you to make informed decisions. Now, a new website has been launched to subject claims of risk to rigorous scrutiny., launched in February, was designed by a team from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

It weighs up the available evidence to give a thumbs up or down to claims of risk associated with cancer.

One of the more surprising risk factors that stands up to scientific scrutiny is flying.

“Aircrew are exposed to higher levels of radiation (specifically cosmic ionising radiation, a type of radiation that comes from outer space) and sleep cycle disruption,” warns

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The health website continues: “Cosmic ionising radiation is known to cause cancer, and aircrew have the largest average exposure out of all radiation-exposed workers in the United States (CDC).”

It cites information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states both male and female crew members may be at increased risk for skin cancer, female crew members are at increased risk for breast cancer, and male aircrew have an increased risk of both Kaposi sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (CDC).

According to the CDC, while there is enough evidence to support these facts, scientists are still unsure why this is true, though they do have some theories:

  • UV radiation from sun exposure is a major risk factor for malignant melanoma, and UV radiation is significantly stronger at higher altitudes. Windows on commercial aircrafts block some radiation but not all
  • Exposure to elevated levels of cosmic ionising radiation
  • Circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) disruption from traveling across time zones, and working when others would normally be asleep
  • Differences in non-work-related risk factors for breast cancer.

How to reduce the risk

The CDC recommends that crew members try to reduce their time on very long flights, flights at high latitudes, or flights that go over the North and South Poles.

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Eating a balanced diet means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

The Eatwell Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day and base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta.

You should also:

  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day).


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