Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis

June 5, 2021

Background  Extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MFs) are classified as a possible carcinogenic factor (Group 2B). This study assessed the association between ELF-MFs and childhood cancer through a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Methods  Three databases were searched in January 2020. We conducted a meta-analysis for the association between the ELF-MFs exposure level and childhood cancer.

Results  A total of 33 studies were identified. Thirty studies with 186,223 participants were included in the meta-analysis. Children exposed to 0.2-, 0.3-, and 0.4-μT ELF-MFs had a 1.26 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.06–1.49), 1.22 (95% CI 0.93–1.61), and 1.72 (95% CI 1.25–2.35) times higher odds of childhood leukemia. In childhood brain tumors, children exposed to 0.2-μT had a 0.95 (95% CI 0.59–1.56) times higher odds, and those exposed to 0.4-μT ELF-MFs had a 1.25 (95% CI 0.93–1.61). Children exposed to 0.2- and 0.4-μT ELF-MFs had a 1.10 (95% CI 0.70–1.75) and 2.01 (95% CI 0.89–4.52) times higher odds of any childhood cancers.

Conclusions  Significant associations were observed between exposure to ELF-MFs and childhood leukemia. Furthermore, a possible dose-response effect was also observed.

The debate on the effect of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on the human body still continues, and several studies have investigated the effect of magnetic fields that are not well shielded by objects [1–3]. The question of whether exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MFs) from power transmission and distribution or the use of electrical appliances is associated with an increased risk of childhood cancer has engendered scientific debate [4–6]. In 2001, the ELF-MFs were classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as possibly carcinogenic (Group 2B), based on the limited clinical evidence, inadequate experimental support, and the lack of plausible mechanisms at the exposure levels that were observed in epidemiological studies [7, 8]. This classification was endorsed by the subsequent weight of evidence assessments carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) [8]. Subsequently, clinical evidence emerged from epidemiological studies on the etiology of childhood leukemia that indicated a weak association with ELF-MFs [9–12]….
Conclusions In this large pooled analysis of more than 36,000 children diagnosed with childhood leukemia, statistically significant associations were observed between exposure to ELF-MF and childhood leukemia. Furthermore, the intensity of the association between exposure to ELF-MFs and childhood leukemia was high, as indicated by the dose–response effect.

The risk of ELF-MFs, which have been classified as a possibly carcinogenic (Group 2B) factor based on limited evidence in humans, can be ascertained through precise evidence from the integrated results of this study.

GyeongAe Seomun, Juneyoung Lee, Jinkyung Park. Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0251628. May 14, 2021. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0251628.

Open access paper: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0251628

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