Most work on adult cancers has investigated links to occupational exposure. For breast cancer, however, there are several studies of residential exposure as well and we give the details on a separate page. See also details of a recent study in the UK of adult cancer and proximity to high-voltage power lines.
The conclusion of the 2001 NRPB Advisory Group Report concerning occupational exposure is, in part (pp163-164):
“Study of populations exposed occupationally to electromagnetic fields can include groups exposed generally at much higher levels than members of the public. They may therefore have a greater potential to detect any adverse health effects. Although recently published studies of occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer are, in the main, methodologically sound, and some of them have considerable statistical power, causal relationships between such exposure and an increase in tumour incidence at any site are not established.” More on NRPB
The 2004 NRPB advice on limiting exposures concludes:
“There is no clear evidence of a carcinogenic effect of ELF EMFs in adults…”
The accompanying review of the scientific evidence gives more detail, including the following statements:
“AGNIR found no reason to believe that residential exposure to EMFs were involved in the development of leukaemia or brain tumours…”
“Also, studies of breast cancer and residential EMF exposures, based on measurements in the home, have generally not shown associations…”
“More recent studies of workers exposed to EMFs have generally not shown raised risks of leukaemia or brain cancers…”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is an agency of the World Health Organisation. Its Unit of Carcinogen Identification and Evaluation has, since 1972, periodically published Monographs which assess the evidence that various agents are carcinogenic and classify the agents accordingly. In June 2001, a Working Group met to consider static and extremely-low-frequency electric and magnetic fields. The complete results have been published as Monograph number 80. Power-frequency magnetic fields were classified as “possibly carcinogenic”. This was on the basis of “limited” evidence from humans concerning childhood leukaemia. For all other cancer types including all adult cancers, the classification was “inadequate” evidence from humans and “inadequate” evidence from animals.
A major review of epidemiology by ICNIRP published in 2001 concluded:
"Results from these studies have ranged from null to rather strong positive associations, with relative risks in the upper exposure categories above 2.0. Unfortunately, there is not a clear pattern in which the better studies are more or less likely to produce positive associations. In the aggregate, assuming random error accounts for differences among studies, the results are most consistent with a weak positive association, with relative risks for the more highly exposed groups of the order of 1.1-1.3. Relative risks of this magnitude are below the level at which epidemiological methods can effectively assess causal relations. Nevertheless, the evidence at present supporting a role for EMF in the etiology of adult leukemia is weak."
Adult nervous system tumours:
"The conclusions provided for EMF and adult leukemia are essentially applicable to the brain cancer literature as well. A large number of studies, mostly addressing occupational exposure, have generated measures of association ranging from null to rather strongly positive, but in the aggregate, relative risk estimates would be in the range of 1.1-1.3, a level at which a meaningful discussion of causality is not possible."
Adult breast cancer:
"The totality of evidence linking EMFs to breast cancer, in men or women, remains weak."
SCENIHR is the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. In their opinion on EMFs in 2007 they stated about breast cancer in particular:
"Breast cancer caught particular interest because of experimental results suggesting that melatonin synthesis was related to ELF field exposure and because melatonin might play a role in the development of breast cancer. Several studies also reported an increased breast cancer risk among subjects with elevated ELF exposure. However, later big and well controlled studies have been entirely negative and the hypothesis of a link between ELF field exposure and breast cancer risk is essentially written off (Forssen et al. 2005)."more on SCENIHR
View of WHO
The WHO Environmental Health Criteria Monograph published in 2007 concluded:
"Subsequent to the IARC monograph a number of reports have been published concerning the risk of female breast cancer in adults associated with ELF magnetic field exposure. These studies are larger than the previous ones and less susceptible to bias, and overall are negative. With these studies, the evidence for an association between ELF magnetic field exposure and the risk of female breast cancer is weakened considerably and does not support an association of this kind.
In the case of adult brain cancer and leukaemia, the new studies published after the IARC monograph do not change the conclusion that the overall evidence for an association between ELF magnetic fields and the risk of these diseases remains inadequate.
For other diseases and all other cancers, the evidence remains inadequate."More on the WHO Monograph