Electromagnetic fields and cancer risks

Rev Epidemiol Sante Publique. 1992;40 Suppl 1:S55-62.


Cancer was first associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) in 1979 when Wertheimer and Leeper reported that children dying from cancer resided more often in homes believed to be exposed to higher EMF than did healthy control children. The risks were as high as 2.23 (1.56-3.18) 3.09 (1.68-5.71) for all cancers, 2.98 (1.72-5.15) for leukemia and 2.40 (1.08-5.36) for brain cancers. Wire configuration around houses was used as a surrogate for direct EMF exposure measurements. Wertheimer's finding of an association between cancer and wire configuration around houses has been replicated in two recent studies. However, direct measurement of EMF fields in houses of cancer children have not yielded the same results as the wire configuration around houses, thereby jeopardizing the hypothesis of an association between EMF and cancer. To comprehend the putative association between residential exposure to EMF and childhood cancer, one would have to understand what is hidden behind the notion of 'wire configuration' around the house. In parallel with residential studies, scores of studies were conducted among workers occupationally exposed to EMF. What have we learned from these occupational studies? Hypotheses generating and case control studies have revealed the existence of an excess risk of leukemia among electrical workers. Pooled results have estimated the risk for all leukemia to be 1.18 (1.09-1.29) and for acute myeloid leukemia 1.46 (1.27-1.64). An increased risk of leukemia among electrical workers does not necessarily mean that EMF is a causal agent, other chemicals such as benzene, creosote, solvent, could possibly account for it but this has yet to be confirmed.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Electricity
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Risk
  • Welding