Objectives: To summarise and to facilitate comparison of three major studies of electric utility workers that examined the relation between quantitative measurements of occupational exposure to magnetic fields and risk of brain cancer and leukaemia. These studies have been interpreted as providing conflicting evidence.
Methods: A common analytical approach was applied to data from the five cohorts included in the three studies based on original data from four of the cohorts, and published data from one additional cohort. A nested case-control design with conditional logistic regression was used to estimate the relative risk/10 microtesla-years (microT-years) for each of the contributing cohorts and for the combined data. The homogeneity of these estimates among the studies was also evaluated.
Results: Apparent inconsistencies in the findings of these studies can be explained by statistical variation. Overall, the studies suggest a small increase in risk of both brain cancer and leukaemia. Different methodological choices had little impact on the results. Based on a combined analysis of data from all five studies, the relative risk/10 microT-years was 1.12 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.98 to 1.28) for brain cancer, and 1.09 (95% CI 0.98 to 1.21) for leukaemia.
Conclusions: The combined estimates seem to provide the best summary measures of the data from all studies. However, fluctuations in risks among studies may reflect real differences, and the exposure measurements in different studies may not be entirely comparable.