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Study of Markers of Cosmic Radiation Exposure and Effect Among Flight Crews

35 Years
54 Years
Not Enrolling
Chromosomal Aberrations, Cosmic Radiation

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Trial Information

Study of Markers of Cosmic Radiation Exposure and Effect Among Flight Crews

Ionizing radiation efficiently induces chromosomal aberrations (CA) and several studies of
CA have now been conducted among small groups of flight crews. However, most of the studies
only evaluated the unstable aberrations that reflect recent exposures, but not long-term
cumulative cosmic radiation exposure. Chromosome painting by fluorescence in situ
hybridization (FISH) is a widely used and established cytogenetic method for detecting
stable aberrations such as translocations. Thus, FISH can be used for estimating
chromosomal damage from cumulative radiation exposure. No large studies of flight crews
utilizing FISH have been conducted to date.

In collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), we
proposed a study to measure CA using FISH in a group of pilots estimated to have high comic
radiation exposure based on flight histories, i.e., those with long duration flying
international routes, and a comparison group of university faculty with minimal flying
history. These measurements will be used to determine if pilots have elevated frequencies
of CA (specifically stable translocations) as compared with the university faculty. In
addition, the frequencies of CA will be examined in relation to the cumulative cosmic
radiation dose to determine if there is a dose-response relationship. Individual cumulative
doses will be calculated from pilot flight histories using a computer program developed by
the FAA which estimates cosmic radiation does by accounting for changes in altitude and
latitude, and the 11-year solar cycle at the time of the flight. We will collect
information on age, lifestyle factors, diet, health history, family cancer history, and
medical radiation exposures from a self-administered study and dietary questionnaire. These
factors may affect the CA frequency and so we plan to adjust for them in the statistical

Pilots were identified based on the Allied Pilots Association roster and faculty from a
commercial company that maintains a database of university faculty, including those in the
Chicago area. Potential participants will be notified of the study by mail and
recruited/screened for eligibility over the telephone. We compensated participants $100 for
their time and inconvenience. Two field stations were arranged at the O'Hare UIC medical
clinic for pilots and at the UIC Health Services clinic (on campus) for the faculty, where
interviews were conducted and a peripheral blood sample collected. Participants will be
notified of the overall study results and may request their personal CA results at the end
of the study. Participants may also choose to have additional blood drawn, however this
blood sample will be anonymized so that it cannot be linked back to the participant.
Genotypic variants in DNA repair (and possibly other) genes will be evaluated for an effect
on CA frequency.

Inclusion Criteria



Subjects will be Chicago based pilots who fly international flights out of Chicago.

Subjects must have worked at least 10 years as an international pilot.


Subjects must be currently employed as university faculty from the Chicago area.

Pilots and External Comparison Group Subjects:

Age 35-54.

Non-Smoker (less than 100 lifetime cigarettes).




No personal history of cancer.

No history of chemotherapy.

No history of major diagnostic radiation therapy (e.g., radio-imaging that exposed the
large bones or lymph nodes except for routine medical and dental x-rays).

No family history of hereditary diseases (ataxia telangiectasia, Fanconi's anemia, Bloom's
syndrome, and xeroderma pigmentosum).


Must not have a history of excessive past air travel (defined as no more than an average
of one international flight/year and one domestic flight/month).

No history of major illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Must not have been employed in a clinical or laboratory area that involves exposure to
radiation and chemotherapeutic drugs.

Type of Study:


Study Design:


Principal Investigator

Alice Sigurdson, M.D.

Investigator Role:

Principal Investigator

Investigator Affiliation:

National Cancer Institute (NCI)


United States: Federal Government

Study ID:




Start Date:

November 2001

Completion Date:

Related Keywords:

  • Chromosomal Aberrations
  • Cosmic Radiation
  • Cancer
  • FISH
  • Airlines
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Chromosomal Aberrations
  • Flight Crew
  • Cosmic Radiation
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Chromosome Disorders



National Institute for Occupational Safety and HealthMorgantown, West Virginia  26505-2888