Extremely low frequency electric fields and cancer: assessing the evidence

Bioelectromagnetics. 2010 Feb;31(2):89-101. doi: 10.1002/bem.20527.


Much of the research and reviews on extremely low frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) have focused on magnetic rather than electric fields. Some have considered such focus to be inappropriate and have argued that electric fields should be part of both epidemiologic and laboratory work. This paper fills the gap by systematically and critically reviewing electric-fields literature and by comparing overall strength of evidence for electric versus magnetic fields. The review of possible mechanisms does not provide any specific basis for focusing on electric fields. While laboratory studies of electric fields are few, they do not indicate that electric fields should be the exposure of interest. The existing epidemiology on residential electric-field exposures and appliance use does not support the conclusion of adverse health effects from electric-field exposure. Workers in close proximity to high-voltage transmission lines or substation equipment can be exposed to high electric fields. While there are sporadic reports of increase in cancer in some occupational studies, these are inconsistent and fraught with methodologic problems. Overall, there seems little basis to suppose there might be a risk for electric fields, and, in contrast to magnetic fields, and with a possible exception of occupational epidemiology, there seems little basis for continued research into electric fields.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electromagnetic Fields*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology