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Adult Cancers Near High-voltage Overhead Power Lines

Elliott, Paul; Shaddick, Gavin; Douglass, Margaret; de Hoogh, Kees; Briggs, David J.; Toledano, Mireille B.

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e31827e95b9

Background: Extremely low-frequency magnetic fields are designated as possibly carcinogenic in humans, based on an epidemiologic association with childhood leukemia. Evidence for associations with adult cancers is weaker and inconsistent.

Methods: We conducted a case-control study to investigate risks of adult cancers in relation to distance and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields from high-voltage overhead power lines using National Cancer Registry Data in England and Wales, 1974–2008. The study included 7823 leukemia, 6781 brain/central nervous system cancers, 9153 malignant melanoma, 29,202 female breast cancer cases, and 79,507 controls frequency-matched on year and region (three controls per case except for female breast cancer, one control per case) 15–74 years of age living within 1000 m of a high-voltage overhead power line.

Results: There were no clear patterns of excess risk with distance from power lines. After adjustment for confounders (age, sex [except breast cancer], deprivation, rurality), for distances closest to the power lines (0–49 m) compared with distances 600–1000 m, odds ratios (ORs) ranged from 0.82 (95% confidence interval = 0.61–1.11; 66 cases) for malignant melanoma to 1.22 (0.88–1.69) for brain/central nervous system cancer. We observed no meaningful excess risks and no trends of risk with magnetic field strength for the four cancers examined. In adjusted analyses at the highest estimated field strength, ≥1000 nanotesla (nT), compared with <100 nT, ORs ranged from 0.68 (0.39–1.17) for malignant melanoma to 1.08 (0.77–1.51) for female breast cancer.

Conclusion: Our results do not support an epidemiologic association of adult cancers with residential magnetic fields in proximity to high-voltage overhead power lines.

From the aSmall Area Health Statistics Unit, MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, St. Mary’s Campus, London, United Kingdom; and bDepartment of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom.

Submitted 19 March 2012; accepted 16 November 2012; posted 18 January 2013.

P.E. and D.J.B. received support for the study from UK Department of Health, grant number RRX106. The Energy Networks Association also contributed funding through a grant to the Department of Health. A Steering Committee comprising independent experts and representatives of the funders advised on study design and commented on the protocol. The Department of Health, Energy Networks Association, and National Grid were not involved in the writing or interpretation of this report, which is the responsibility of the authors alone.

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Correspondence: Paul Elliott and Mireille Toledano, Small Area Health Statistics Unit, MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, St Mary’s campus, London W2 1PG, United Kingdom. E-mail:;

Copyright © 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.