A review of the medical records of 20,000 Australian pilots shows that they apparently are at no higher risk of invasive melanoma than members of the general population, according to a new report by a team of cancer researchers.
The report, published in the June issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said the findings differed significantly from the results of older research conducted in the Northern Hemisphere, which showed that pilots from Europe and North America faced an elevated risk of melanoma.
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) quoted the lead author of the study, Catherine Olsen of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, as saying the research found that Australian pilots experienced no more melanomas on the head, neck or arms than members of the general population. An increase in the numbers of these melanomas would have been expected “if sun exposure in the cockpit was a driving factor,” Olsen said.
The earlier studies in the Northern Hemisphere involved data collected between the 1940s and the early 2000s, CASA said.
“Today’s pilots work in different conditions and may have different lifestyles,” Olsen said. “In the 1950s, pilots may have had longer layovers, often in sunny locations, and they likely had much higher recreational sun exposure, but now, current practices don’t really allow that.”
Today’s pilots fly more frequently than their counterparts several decades ago, and conditions inside airliners also have changed, she said, adding that “levels of short-wave solar ultraviolet radiation, the kind associated with melanoma, are mostly extremely low on today’s airliner flight decks.”
Past studies have generally concluded that, although crewmembers faced no elevated risk of cancer, the risks were higher for skin cancers, including malignant melanoma, and, for female crewmembers, breast cancer.
The new study is referenced in the June 2019 issue of The CASA Briefing.