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.

Photo by Tim van der Kuip
Photo by Tim van der Kuip

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

In 2011, WHO suggested that non-ionising radiation and comprise 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 the ISGlobal, no clear associations were discovered between occupational exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) and risk of glioma or meningioma. The study is the largest epidemiological studies 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 on 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.”

The study is reported in the journal Environment International.