Fly low

Published: Thursday 15 October 1998

Female flight attendants run a higher risk of getting breast cancer. This could be due to the effects of jet lag on melanin, a hormone, the level of which is up to 10 times higher levels in the blood at night than during the day. Crossing time zones repeatedly may disrupt its production, say experts. According to Anthony Mawson, epidemiologist at the Carolinas Health Care System in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, jet lag is associated with disturbances in the brain's pineal gland which produces the hormone. Jet lag leads to reduced melanin secretion which, in turn, can lead to breast cancer. Finnish flight attendants, for instance, who had been flying for about 14 years, had twice the risk of getting breast cancer compared to others. Reproductive factors, exposure to cosmic radiation, which increases on all flights, did not seem to be associated with the increased cancer risk.

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