Airline pilots and cabin crews appear to develop melanoma at significantly higher rates, when compared with the general population, a new evaluation of previously conducted studies shows.
The lead author of the new analysis, Dr. Susana Ortiz-Urda, co-director of the UCSF Melanoma Center at the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues combined the results of 19 studies that tracked pilots & flight crews from the 1940s until 2008. The studies mostly examined European countries, especially those in Scandinavia, with onlyfive studies looking at crews in the United States.
What is not clear is if the increased risk comes from exposure to higher levels of UVA through the airplanes glass window or if airplane crews are experiencing higher levels of sun exposure on the ground when sunbathing between flights.
Dr. Susana Ortiz-Urda, co-director of the UCSF Melanoma Center at the University of California, San Francisco, believes this new analysis to be “very worrisome.” She wants airlines to change their windows to give greater protection against in particular the UVA rays of the sun which are significantly stronger at higher altitudes.
Melanoma can also be deadly; around 10,000 people will die of melanoma in 2014.
There is significantly increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation at higher altitudes. “At 9000 meters [about 30,000 feet], where most commercial aircraft fly, the UV level is approximately twice that of the ground,” researcher said.
A Federal Aviation Administration report shows that windshields block almost all of the UVB rays from the sun, but glass windshields allow as much as 54 percent of UVA rays through. Both UVB and UVA have been shown to cause damage to the DNA in cells, which can lead to skin cancer.
The new analysis was published in the Sept. 3 online edition of the journal JAMA Dermatology.