Scand J Work Environ Health 1997;23(1):5-14    pdf | Issue date: Feb 1997

Need for a European approach to the effects of extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields on cancer

by ELF-EMF European Feasibility Study Group

Background A European feasibility study on environmental exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) and cancer was conducted. The study was motivated by public health concern about possible adverse health effects associated with ELF-EMF exposure.

Methods A review of completed research in Europe was conducted. Information on the methods and accessibility of new epidemiologic studies were requested and reviewed.

Results Eight studies on environmental ELF-EMF exposure have been completed in Europe while 15 large on studies are in progress. Although there is no known mechanism by which electric or magnetic fields of this frequency could play a role in the development of cancer or other adverse health effects, the results of the studies conducted so far provide some support for the hypothesis that they are associated with the incidence of childhood leukemia.

Conclusions and recommendations The best use of available data will be made through a pooled re-analysis of data, particularly those on childhood tumors. It is recommended to apply multiple methods for exposure assessment in view of the heterogeneity in the methods used in different studies. New multicenter case-referent studies should not be initiated until the results of the large on-going studies have been reported. Prospective cohort studies will have to be very large to identify moderate excess risks resulting from environmental exposure to ELF-EMF, and their feasibility should be discussed after the results of the on-going case-referent studies have been reported. A European collaborative approach will lead to greater statistical power and will assess the exposure-effect association under differing exposure patterns and distributions of potential confounding factors.