Exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields at work not associated with brain tumors

By assessing individual exposure to electromagnetic fields, INTEROCC represents the most comprehensive study in the field.


Until now, many health experts have suggested that exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields is hazardous for the brain. It can lead to brain tumors or other types of brain damage.

In 2011, WHO suggested that non-ionizing radiation comprising intermediate frequency (3kHz-10MHz) and radiofrequency (10MHz-300 GHz) are carcinogenic to humans. But, further recent studies suggest something else.

In a new study by ISGlobal, no clear associations were discovered between occupational exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) and the risk of glioma or meningioma. The study is the largest epidemiological study performed to date that enlightens the need for further research on radiofrequency magnetic fields and tumor promotion.

Senior author Elisabeth Cardis, Head of the Radiation Programme at ISGlobal said, “This is the largest study of brain tumors and occupational high-frequency EMF exposure to date.”

For this study, scientists developed a ‘source-exposure matrix’ based on measurements collected from the literature for EMF sources reported by the study participants. Using this tool, they estimated individual RF and IF exposure at work and examined if there is a possibility of glioma or meningioma, two of the most frequent brain tumors in adults.

The INTEROCC study, performed under the umbrella of INTERPHONE, and supported by the European project GERoNiMO, comprised 2,054 glioma cases, 1,924 meningioma cases, and 5,601 controls from seven countries. Occupational sectors that involved exposure to electromagnetic fields included working with or near radars, telecommunication antennas, medical diagnosis and treatment, and microwave drying ovens, among others.

The outcomes do not suggest any clear evidence of the association between cumulative high-frequency EMF exposure and glioma or meningioma risk. Only 10% of the participants were exposed to radiofrequency and less than 1% were exposed to intermediate frequencies, which limited the statistical power to find clear associations.

First author Javier Vila said, “Our individualized exposure assessment approach is an important improvement over previous efforts to assess high-frequency EMF exposure risks. Although we did not find a positive association, the fact that we observed an indication of an increased risk in the group with the most recent radiofrequency exposure deserves further investigation. We also need to investigate possible interactions with other frequencies, and with chemicals.”

Journal Reference

  1. Javier Vila, Michelle C.Turner, Esther Gracia-Lavedan, Jordi Figuerola, Joseph D.Bowman, Laurel Kincl, Lesley Richardson, Geza Benke, Martine Hours, Daniel Krewski, Dave McLean, Marie-Elise Parent, Siegal Sadetzki, Klaus Schlaefer, Brigitte Schlehofer, Joachim Schüz, Jack Siemiatycki, Martie van Tongeren, Elisabeth Cardis, Occupational exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields and brain tumor risk in the INTEROCC study: An individualized assessment approach. Environment International Volume 119, October 2018, Pages 353-365 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.06.038
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