Doctor Tony Goodwin
Pilots worry how flying might affect their health and yet the only proven condition to which they are more prone is usually ignored.
Malignant Melanoma (MM), one of the skin cancers, is rapidly increasing in incidence and mortality in most white-skinned populations, and worldwide studies show pilots are at least three times more susceptible than the average population (also increased in flight engineers and male cabin crew). The role of exposure to cosmic radiation, block-hours flown, time zone changes (more MM after five), and lifestyle factors (sunbathing) is still unclear.
Victims typically have fair hair, fair skin, blue eyes and burn easily though association with sun and ultra violet light (UVA and UVB) exposure is complex. Office workers intermittently exposed (holidays) are more at risk than outdoor workers. Recent work suggests susceptibility depends on a minute error in the genes.
MM most commonly occurs on women's legs and men's backs (ask partner to look). Major signs are a mole that changes size (especially larger than 7mm), changes colour, bleeds, oozes or crusts.
Avoid mid day sun, especially near the equator; use sunscreen (number is multiplication factor for protection-use 8 for skin that tans, 15 if it doesn't) and wear a hat. Early diagnosis and adequate surgical excision are essential as the thicker the MM gets, the greater the chance of spread and mortality (and loss of licence!)
A picture is worth a thousand (let alone 200) words. See:-
and go to 'Specific Cancers' and then to 'Malignant Melanoma'. Click on 'Menu for this topic' at the top of the page and then, in the 'About Malignant Melanoma' box, click on 'Pictures of abnormal moles'. Several examples are there to see. There is plenty of information in the other parts of this useful site.
Look after your skin!
29th October 2003
Airport Medical Services Limited