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J Radiol Prot. 2012 Mar;32(1):N15-9. doi: 10.1088/0952-4746/32/1/N15. Epub 2012 Mar 6.

Epidemiological investigations of aircrew: an occupational group with low-level cosmic radiation exposure.

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  • 1Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social Medicine, Bremen, Germany.


Aircrew and passengers are exposed to low-level cosmic ionising radiation. Annual effective doses for flight crew have been estimated to be in the order of 2-5 mSv and can attain 75 mSv at career end. Epidemiological studies in this occupational group have been conducted over the last 15-20 years, usually with a focus on radiation-associated cancer. These studies are summarised in this note. Overall cancer risk was not elevated in most studies and subpopulations analysed, while malignant melanoma, other skin cancers and breast cancer in female aircrew have shown elevated incidence, with lesser risk elevations in terms of mortality. In some studies, including the large German cohort, brain cancer risk appears elevated. Cardiovascular mortality risks were generally very low. Dose information for pilots was usually derived from calculation procedures based on routine licence information, types of aircraft and routes/hours flown, but not on direct measurements. However, dose estimates have shown high validity when compared with measured values. No clear-cut dose-response patterns pointing to a higher risk for those with higher cumulative doses were found. Studies on other health outcomes have shown mixed results. Overall, aircrew are a highly selected group with many specific characteristics and exposures that might also influence cancers or other health outcomes. Radiation-associated health effects have not been clearly established in the studies available so far.

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