Experienced pilots may be at risk of DNA damage from ionizing radiation

Dec 11, 2008

Airline pilots who have flown for many years may be at risk of DNA damage from prolonged exposure to cosmic ionising radiation, suggests a study published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The research team compared the rate of chromosomal (DNA) abnormalities in blood samples taken from 83 airline pilots and 50 university faculty members from the same US city.

The two groups were matched for age (35 to 56), sex (male), and smoking habit (light or non-smokers). Age and smoking are known risk factors for cumulative DNA damage.

Fifty eight of the pilots (70%) had served in the military, and they had undertaken significantly more personal air travel than the university staff. Both these factors would have exposed them to more ionising radiation.

The researchers were looking in particular for the number of times pairs of chromosomes had changed places (translocations), expressed as a score per 100 cell equivalents (CE).

Chromosome translocations are a reliable indicator of cumulative DNA damage associated with radiation exposure as they are not rapidly eliminated from the blood like other forms of chromosomal abnormality.

The average frequency of chromosome translocation was higher among the pilots than the faculty staff (0.39 compared with 0.32/100 CE), but after adjusting for age and other influential factors, there was no difference.

But when the analysis focused on how long pilots had been flying, differences emerged.

The chromosome translocation frequency of those who had flown the most was more than twice that of those who had flown the least, after taking age into account.

Adjusting for the impact of cigarette smoking, personal air travel, and diagnostic x-ray procedures did not affect these findings.

Chromosomal abnormalities have been associated with an increased risk of cancer. And the authors conclude that their results suggest that highly experienced flight pilots may be exposed to "biologically significant doses of ionising radiation."

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: Outcomes of lung transplantations since implementation of need-based allocation system

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Uganda on defensive over medical 'brain drain' uproar

Mar 03, 2015

Uganda's government on Tuesday hit back at mounting criticism of plans to 'export' over 200 health workers to the Caribbean, insisting it was only seeking to regulate an existing labour market and prevent abuses.

Seth Mnookin on vaccination and public health

Mar 02, 2015

Seth Mnookin, an assistant professor of science writing and associate director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing, is the author of "The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.