European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 419–429 | Cite as

Cosmic radiation and mortality from cancer among male German airline pilots: extended cohort follow-up

  • Gaël Paul Hammer
  • Maria Blettner
  • Ingo Langner
  • Hajo Zeeb


Commercial airline pilots are exposed to cosmic radiation and other specific occupational factors, potentially leading to increased cancer mortality. This was analysed in a cohort of 6,000 German cockpit crew members. A mortality follow-up for the years 1960–2004 was performed and occupational and dosimetry data were collected for this period. 405 deaths, including 127 cancer deaths, occurred in the cohort. The mortality from all causes and all cancers was significantly lower than in the German population. Total mortality decreased with increasing radiation doses (rate ratio (RR) per 10 mSv: 0.85, 95 % CI: 0.79, 0.93), contrasting with a non-significant increase of cancer mortality (RR per 10 mSv: 1.05, 95 % CI: 0.91, 1.20), which was restricted to the group of cancers not categorized as radiogenic in categorical analyses. While the total and cancer mortality of cockpit crew is low, a positive trend of all cancer with radiation dose is observed. Incomplete adjustment for age, other exposures correlated with duration of employment and a healthy worker survivor effect may contribute to this finding. More information is expected from a pooled analysis of updated international aircrew studies.


Ionising radiation Aviation Cancer Mortality Cohort study Occupation Germany 



The authors thank all their collaborating partners at Lufthansa Germany Airlines for their efforts in maintaining and updating this cohort. This work was supported by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, contract 3607S04548, the employers’ mandatory liability insurance Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehr, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and LTU International Airways. The trade unions Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) and Unabhängige Flugbegleiter Organisation (UFO) provided additional support. Funders were not involved in study design, nor the analysis, and interpretation of data or the writing of the article and the decision to submit it for publication. Researchers had access to all data required for this study. Deutsche Lufthansa AG provided updated data on employment status and raw data for dosimetry, in a similar format as in the first follow-up.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This design of this study was approved by the Employee Representation of Lufthansa German Airlines and LTU International Airways. Seeking informed consent from individual cohort members was not necessary. The planned pooled European-US mortality analysis, of which the current study is a part, was reviewed by the ethics committee of the Rhineland-Palatinate medical chamber.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gaël Paul Hammer
    • 1
  • Maria Blettner
    • 1
  • Ingo Langner
    • 2
  • Hajo Zeeb
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Medical Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics (IMBEI)University Medical Center, Johannes Gutenberg University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Bremen Institute for Prevention Research and Social MedicineUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

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