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Keywords:

  • cohort study;
  • cancer;
  • mortality;
  • epidemiology;
  • pilots;
  • radiation

Abstract

Airline pilots and flight engineers are exposed to ionizing radiation of cosmic origin and other occupational and life-style factors that may influence their health status and mortality. In a cohort study in 9 European countries we studied the mortality of this occupational group. Cockpit crew cohorts were identified and followed-up in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Norway and Sweden, including a total of 28,000 persons. Observed and expected deaths for the period 1960–97 were compared based on national mortality rates. The influence of period and duration of employment was analyzed in stratified and Poisson regression analyses. The study comprised 547,564 person-years at risk, and 2,244 deaths were recorded in male cockpit crew (standardized mortality ratio [SMR] = 0.64, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.61–0.67). Overall cancer mortality was decreased (SMR = 0.68; 95% CI = 0.63–0.74). We found an increased mortality from malignant melanoma (SMR = 1.78, 95% CI = 1.15–2.67) and a reduced mortality from lung cancer (SMR = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.44–0.62). No consistent association between employment period or duration and cancer mortality was observed. A low cardiovascular mortality and an increased mortality caused by aviation accidents were noted. Our study shows that cockpit crew have a low overall mortality. The results are consistent with previous reports of an increased risk of malignant melanoma in airline pilots. Occupational risk factors apart from aircraft accidents seem to be of limited influence with regard to the mortality of cockpit crew in Europe. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.