Answer to Question #12391 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
I will be going on an airplane at the end of the month. Will I be at risk of getting cancer? I never knew that there were radiation risks during flying, and now I feel I should put off the idea of wanting to be a pilot.
No, it is unlikely that your planned airplane trip will increase your risk of cancer. As Dr. Robert Barish noted in his response to Health Physics Society (HPS) Ask the Experts Question 11418, "For ordinary travelers . . . taking a few trips per year, the cosmic radiation exposure in an aircraft should be of no concern."
In Ask the Experts Question 9770, Dr. Barish provides information about how to calculate your radiation dose from an airplane trip. He compares a traveler's very small expected dose (about 0.01 millisievert [mSv] per 1,600 kilometers [km]) to the allowable dose limit (1 mSv). This limit is set at a point far below that at which we expect any health effects; in fact, researchers have not even identified health effects at much higher doses (100 mSv or less). For more information on risk from low-dose radiation, see HPS Position Statement PS010-3.
You mentioned also that you are considering being a pilot. The situation for airline crew is somewhat different than for casual travelers. For airline crews, radiation doses may approach significant levels. Additional information about airline crew doses may be found in a summary of frequently asked questions on this topic. The Centers for Disease Control also has an interesting website on aircrew doses.
In summary, your pending airplane travel should pose little increased risk of cancer, so you can enjoy your trip.
Linnea Wahl, CHP