Home » Power lines » Level 2 » Question 3

Electromagnetic fields from Power lines, Wiring & Appliances

3. Do Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields cause cancer?


Long and short term effects of ELF magnetic fields on cancer development in animals have been investigated. Several studies focused on different types of cancer including leukaemia as well as skin, brain, liver and breast cancer. Most studies did not demonstrate any carcinogenic effect. Some studies did show an increase in cancers but these findings have not been confirmed in similar studies. No ELF magnetic field study on animals has indicated an increase in leukaemia or lymphoma. More...


Since 1979, when a study suggested an association between ELF fields and childhood leukaemia, many other studies have been conducted and reached the following conclusions:

Childhood leukaemia
Studies indicate that children exposed to relatively strong ELF magnetic fields, above 0.3-0.4 µT, are twice as likely to develop leukaemia than those exposed to ELF magnetic fields below this level. This finding is unlikely to be due to chance, but the results of the studies may be distorted by biases. Concerning electric fields, the data available is inadequate for evaluation.

Other childhood tumors
Studies have found no consistent relationship between childhood brain tumors or other cancers and exposure to ELF electric and magnetic fields at home. However, these studies have generally been smaller and of lower quality than those on leukaemia. More...


For adult cancer and residential exposure to ELF fields, including the use of appliances, data are sparse and limited by the methods used.

  • No consistent association has been established between exposure at home and adult leukaemia or brain cancer. Evidence for other types of cancers has not been adequate for evaluation.
  • Concerning exposures to ELF fields in the work place, no consistent association with any particular cancer was found. Some earlier studies with methodological limitations suggested a possible increased risk of leukaemia, brain tumors and male breast cancer for workers presumed to be exposed to above average ELF fields. Some better conducted studies in the 1990's reported increased risks of leukaemia and brain cancer, but altogether the findings were not consistent.



There is some evidence at present that ELF magnetic fields can cause cancer in humans, but it is far from conclusive: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified ELF magnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2B).

In humans, there is limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of ELF magnetic fields in relation to childhood leukaemia, but there is inadequate evidence for all other cancers in children and for all cancers in adults. With respect to ELF electric fields there is also inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. More...

FacebookTwitterEmailDownload (11 pages, 0.2 MB)
Themes covered
Publications A-Z

Get involved!

This summary is free and ad-free, as is all of our content. You can help us remain free and independant as well as to develop new ways to communicate science by becoming a Patron!