The relationship between electromagnetic field and light exposures to melatonin and breast cancer risk: a review of the relevant literature

J Pineal Res. 1999 Mar;26(2):65-100. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079x.1999.tb00568.x.


Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common malignancy accounting for 20-32% of all female cancers. This review summarizes the peer-reviewed, published data pertinent to the hypothesis that increased breast cancer in industrialized countries is related to the increased use of electricity [Stevens, R.G., S. Davis 1996]. That hypothesis specifically proposes that increased exposure to light at night and electromagnetic fields (EMF) reduce melatonin production. Because some studies have shown that melatonin suppresses mammary tumorigenesis in rats and blocks estrogen-induced proliferation of human breast cancer cells in vitro, it is reasoned that decreased melatonin production leads to increased risk of breast cancer. To evaluate this hypothesis, the paper reviews epidemiological data on associations between electricity and breast cancer, and assesses the data on the effects of EMF exposure on melatonin physiology in both laboratory animals and humans. In addition, the results on the effects of melatonin on in vivo carcinogenesis in animals are detailed along with the controlled in vitro studies on melatonin's effects on human breast cancer cell lines. The literature is evaluated for strength of evidence, inter-relationships between various lines of evidence, and gaps in our knowledge. Based on the published data, it is currently unclear if EMF and electric light exposure are significant risk factors for breast cancer, but further study appears warranted. Given the ubiquitous nature of EMF and artificial light exposure along with the high incidence of breast cancer, even a small risk would have a substantial public health impact.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / etiology
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Melatonin