Childhood leukemia, electric and magnetic fields, and temporal trends

Bioelectromagnetics. 2006 Oct;27(7):545-52. doi: 10.1002/bem.20249.


During the past 25 years concern has been raised about the possible health effects of extremely low frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), particularly regarding childhood leukemia. Comparison of changes in electricity consumption (a surrogate for exposure) to changes in childhood-leukemia rates, known as ecologic correlation, have been used to argue both for and against the association between magnetic fields and childhood leukemia. In this paper we explore what can be learned from such an ecologic approach. We first examine separately the evidence on trends in exposure to EMFs and on trends in leukemia rates, and then compare the two. Both incidence rates and exposures have increased, but there are so many approximations and assumptions involved in connecting the two trends that we cannot regard the ecologic evidence as providing any meaningful evidence for or against a causal link.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electricity / adverse effects*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / epidemiology
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced* / epidemiology
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / epidemiology
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology