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There have been some (somewhat limited) studies that show (certain) cancer risks increase with flying hours:

The risk for all cancers, malignant melanoma, prostate cancer, basal cell carcinoma of skin, and basal cell carcinoma of trunk increased with an increase in number of employment years, cumulative air hours, total cumulative radiation dose, and cumulative radiation dose sustained up to age of 40 years.

Is there anything that can be modified within aircraft design to mitigate or lower this risk? (to either both passengers and pilots, or at least just the pilots (but what about cabin crew).

An (admittedly terrible) example might be to have some sort of protective layer within the aircraft body, perhaps lead.

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    $\begingroup$ I commend your research for things that will potentially kill you as a result of flying. $\endgroup$ – BDLPPL Jun 6 '18 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DanHulme Not really... that question doesn't mention aircraft design at all. $\endgroup$ – Cloud Jun 6 '18 at 14:05
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Not really. The sole way to stop X-radiation and gamma radiation (which are the same thing) from reaching the people inside is to make the aircraft skin far thicker and denser, and thus incredibly heavy.

The only other things you can do is what's already done and has been for decades, which is to reroute flights away from regions where there's intense incoming radiation, which happen to be the far northern and southern areas near the poles specifically, and then especially during periods of high solar activity (and thus intense auroras).

What's also done is limiting crew hours, especially on polar routes, rotating crews between polar routes and routes that run closer to the equator.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or - and not really practical - fly lower, let the atmosphere block all the nasty stuff like it does for folks on the ground. And now composite aircraft bodies mean the passengers will be exposed to more as well, whereas before there was at least some aluminum to block a little bit of the cosmic rays ... $\endgroup$ – CrossRoads Jun 6 '18 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads Actually carbon fiber composite blocks radiation better than aluminum or titanium. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 6 '18 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW mostly because it can be thicker for the same mass... $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jun 9 '18 at 14:48

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