What is the evidence that magnetic field exposure is linked to cancer in adults?


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Although some studies have reported associations between ELF-EMF exposure and cancer in adults, other studies have not found evidence for such associations.

The majority of epidemiologic studies have shown no relationship between breast cancer in women and exposure to ELF-EMFs in the home (25–28), although several individual studies have shown hints of an association (29, 30).

Several studies conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s reported that people who worked in some electrical occupations (such as power station operators and phone line workers) had higher-than-expected rates of some types of cancer, particularly leukemia, brain tumors, and male breast cancer (1). Some occupational studies showed very small increases in the risks of leukemia and brain cancer, but these results were based on participants’ job titles and not on actual measurements of their exposures. More recent studies, including some that considered the participant’s job title as well as measurements of their exposures, have not shown consistent findings of an increasing risk of leukemia, brain tumors, or female breast cancer with increasing exposure to magnetic fields at work (29, 31–35).

Where can people find additional information on EMFs? 

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) website has information about EMFs and cancer.

Selected References

1. World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer. Non-ionizing radiation, Part 1: Static and extremely low-frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fieldsExit DisclaimerIARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans 2002; 80:1-395.

2. Lagroye I, Percherancier Y, Juutilainen J, De Gannes FP, Veyret B. ELF magnetic fields: Animal studies, mechanisms of action. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 2011; 107(3):369-373. [PubMed Abstract]

3. Ahlbom IC, Cardis E, Green A, et al. Review of the epidemiologic literature on EMF and Health.Environmental Health Perspectives 2001; 109 Suppl 6:911-933. [PubMed Abstract]

4. Schüz J. Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and the risk of childhood cancer: Update of the epidemiological evidence. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 2011; 107(3):339-342. [PubMed Abstract]

5. Wertheimer N, Leeper E. Electrical wiring configurations and childhood cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology 1979; 109(3):273-284. [PubMed Abstract]

6. Kleinerman RA, Kaune WT, Hatch EE, et al. Are children living near high-voltage power lines at increased risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia? American Journal of Epidemiology 2000; 151(5):512-515. [PubMed Abstract]

7. Kroll ME, Swanson J, Vincent TJ, Draper GJ. Childhood cancer and magnetic fields from high-voltage power lines in England and Wales: A case–control study. British Journal of Cancer 2010; 103(7):1122-1127. [PubMed Abstract]

8. Wünsch-Filho V, Pelissari DM, Barbieri FE, et al. Exposure to magnetic fields and childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia in São Paulo, Brazil. Cancer Epidemiology 2011; 35(6):534-539. [PubMed Abstract]

9. Sermage-Faure C, Demoury C, Rudant J, et al. Childhood leukaemia close to high-voltage power lines–the Geocap study, 2002-2007. British Journal of Cancer 2013; 108(9):1899-1906. [PubMed Abstract]

10. Kabuto M, Nitta H, Yamamoto S, et al. Childhood leukemia and magnetic fields in Japan: A case–control study of childhood leukemia and residential power-frequency magnetic fields in Japan. International Journal of Cancer 2006; 119(3):643-650. [PubMed Abstract]

11. Linet MS, Hatch EE, Kleinerman RA, et al. Residential exposure to magnetic fields and acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children. New England Journal of Medicine 1997; 337(1):1-7. [PubMed Abstract]

12. Kheifets L, Ahlbom A, Crespi CM, et al. A pooled analysis of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood brain tumors. American Journal of Epidemiology 2010; 172(7):752-761. [PubMed Abstract]

13. Mezei G, Gadallah M, Kheifets L. Residential magnetic field exposure and childhood brain cancer: A meta-analysis. Epidemiology 2008; 19(3):424-430. [PubMed Abstract]

14. Does M, Scélo G, Metayer C, et al. Exposure to electrical contact currents and the risk of childhood leukemia. Radiation Research 2011; 175(3):390-396. [PubMed Abstract]

15. Ahlbom A, Day N, Feychting M, et al. A pooled analysis of magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia. British Journal of Cancer 2000; 83(5):692-698. [PubMed Abstract]

16. Greenland S, Sheppard AR, Kaune WT, Poole C, Kelsh MA. A pooled analysis of magnetic fields, wire codes, and childhood leukemia. Childhood Leukemia-EMF Study Group. Epidemiology 2000; 11(6):624-634. [PubMed Abstract]

17. Kheifets L, Ahlbom A, Crespi CM, et al. Pooled analysis of recent studies on magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia. British Journal of Cancer 2010; 103(7):1128-1135. [PubMed Abstract]

18. Hatch EE, Linet MS, Kleinerman RA, et al. Association between childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia and use of electrical appliances during pregnancy and childhood. Epidemiology 1998; 9(3):234-245. [PubMed Abstract]

19. Infante-Rivard C, Deadman JE. Maternal occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields during pregnancy and childhood leukemia. Epidemiology 2003; 14(4):437-441. [PubMed Abstract]

20. Hug K, Grize L, Seidler A, Kaatsch P, Schüz J. Parental occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and childhood cancer: A German case–control study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2010; 171(1):27-35. [PubMed Abstract]

21. Svendsen AL, Weihkopf T, Kaatsch P, Schüz J. Exposure to magnetic fields and survival after diagnosis of childhood leukemia: A German cohort study. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2007; 16(6):1167-1171. [PubMed Abstract]

22. Foliart DE, Pollock BH, Mezei G, et al. Magnetic field exposure and long-term survival among children with leukaemia. British Journal of Cancer 2006; 94(1):161-164. [PubMed Abstract]

23. Foliart DE, Mezei G, Iriye R, et al. Magnetic field exposure and prognostic factors in childhood leukemia.Bioelectromagnetics 2007; 28(1):69-71. [PubMed Abstract]

24. Schüz J, Grell K, Kinsey S, et al. Extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and survival from childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: An international follow-up study. Blood Cancer Journal 2012; 2:e98. [PubMed Abstract]

25. Schoenfeld ER, O’Leary ES, Henderson K, et al. Electromagnetic fields and breast cancer on Long Island: A case–control study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2003; 158(1):47-58. [PubMed Abstract]

26. London SJ, Pogoda JM, Hwang KL, et al. Residential magnetic field exposure and breast cancer risk: A nested case–control study from a multiethnic cohort in Los Angeles County, California. American Journal of Epidemiology 2003; 158(10):969-980. [PubMed Abstract]

27. Davis S, Mirick DK, Stevens RG. Residential magnetic fields and the risk of breast cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology 2002; 155(5):446-454. [PubMed Abstract]

28. Kabat GC, O’Leary ES, Schoenfeld ER, et al. Electric blanket use and breast cancer on Long Island.Epidemiology 2003; 14(5):514-520. [PubMed Abstract]

29. Kliukiene J, Tynes T, Andersen A. Residential and occupational exposures to 50-Hz magnetic fields and breast cancer in women: A population-based study. American Journal of Epidemiology 2004; 159(9):852-861. [PubMed Abstract]

30. Zhu K, Hunter S, Payne-Wilks K, Roland CL, Forbes DS. Use of electric bedding devices and risk of breast cancer in African-American women. American Journal of Epidemiology 2003; 158(8):798-806. [PubMed Abstract]

31. Tynes T, Haldorsen T. Residential and occupational exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields and hematological cancers in Norway. Cancer Causes & Control 2003; 14(8):715-720. [PubMed Abstract]

32. Labrèche F, Goldberg MS, Valois MF, et al. Occupational exposures to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and postmenopausal breast cancer. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2003; 44(6):643-652.[PubMed Abstract]

33. Willett EV, McKinney PA, Fear NT, Cartwright RA, Roman E. Occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and acute leukaemia: Analysis of a case-control study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2003; 60(8):577-583. [PubMed Abstract]

24. Coble JB, Dosemeci M, Stewart PA, et al. Occupational exposure to magnetic fields and the risk of brain tumors. Neuro-Oncology 2009; 11(3):242-249. [PubMed Abstract]

35.Li W, Ray RM, Thomas DB, et al. Occupational exposure to magnetic fields and breast cancer among women textile workers in Shanghai, China. American Journal of Epidemiology 2013; 178(7):1038-1045.n[PubMed Abstract]

Source: National Cancer Institute.