Breast cancer and electromagnetic fields--a review.
Ann Epidemiol. 2000 Jan ;10(1):31-44. PMID: 10658687
L S Caplan
PURPOSE: Several statements have been issued to the effect that no consistent, significant link has been demonstrated between cancer and electromagnetic fields (EMF). However, there continues to be much interest in a possible association with breast cancer, in part because breast cancer risk is substantially higher in industrialized countries than in other areas, and electric power generation and consumption is one of the hallmarks of industrialized societies. In 1987, Stevens proposed a biological mechanism whereby two products of electric power generation, EMF and light at night, might contribute to mammary carcinogenesis through inhibition of melatonin.
METHODS: We conducted a comprehensive review of the epidemiologic literature and hypothesized mechanisms pertaining to EMF exposure and the risk of breast cancer, in order to assess whether or not there was evidence to suggest a link between EMF and breast cancer.
RESULTS: Some occupational epidemiological studies have demonstrated an increased incidence of breast cancer among mainly male electrical workers. It has been difficult to study women, as few are employed in these types of occupations. In all, there have been eleven occupational studies related to breast cancer in women, and statistically significant risk ratios have been observed: 1.98 for pre-menopausal women in occupations with high EMF exposure in one study, 2.17 in all women who worked as telephone installers, repairers, and line workers in another study, and 1.65 for system analysts/ programmers, 1.40 for telegraph and radio operators, and 1.27 for telephone operators in a third study. However, six of the studies did not find any significant effects and two found effects only in subgroups. The results of the eight studies of residential exposure and four electric blanket studies have been inconsistent, with most not demonstrating any significant association. However, this might be attributed, at least to some extent, to difficulties in assessing residential exposure in these studies, as well as other methodological considerations.
CONCLUSIONS: The biologic plausibility of an association between EMF and breast cancer, coupled with suggestive data from occupational studies and unexplained high incidence rates of breast cancer, suggests that further investigation of this possible association is warranted.