Can living near power lines cause cancer?


Scientists and doctors are making medical advances in the treatment of cancer almost every day. But the burden of cancer in the United States is still overwhelming. According to the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer are diagnosed and 595,690 people will die from the disease.

While researchers continue to make strides in uncovering the reason why a person develops the disease and another does not, many people will feel scared and anxious for the unknown.

We received this question from a viewer:

Dear Dr. Manny,
At this moment, I’m a home with my pregnant wife and came in a nice house that is almost perfect … except for the huge power lines directly behind it. I’ve heard that some studies show a connection between exposure to power lines and cancer. How scared would I be if I want to pursue this house?
Thank You, Than

Power lines produce low-to mid-frequency magnetic fields (EMFs). These types of EMFs are non-ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and are not known to damage DNA or cells directly, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, some authorities speculate that they can lead to cancer in other ways.

In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-EMF) as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The classification was based on studies that showed a two-fold increase of leukemia among children with exposure to high levels of magnetic fields in the home (above the 0.3 to 0.4 are a windows users).

Other settings will also the certain for the uncertain. A 1999 report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) states that “The scientific evidence suggesting that ELF-EMF exposures pose a health risk is weak,” but, the agency states, “The NIEHS concludes that ELF-EMF exposure cannot be recognized as entirely safe because of weak scientific evidence that exposure may pose a leukemia hazard.”

Dr. Regina Santella, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, said the general public may not conclusive findings is confusing. But in the scientific world, researchers like to see strong evidence in animal and human studies before a definitive connection between the two factors, ” she said.

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“Some people believe in the precautionary principle. If you are not sure, then you can eliminate the exposure—that is a reasonable way to go,” said Santella “But it’s complicated.”

The possible EMF-cancer link has been discussed since the 1980s, said Dr. Boffetta Paolo, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

“In the late ’80s, there were a few studies about leukemia, a form of cancer that is common in children, that shows an association with a very high exposure to EMFs,” said Boffetta “This, however, was [of] a very high exposure, which is only present in about one percent or less of the population, and most people, even those who live near high voltage power lines, have a much lower level of exposure.”

Boffetta, also as an associate director for the Prevention of Cancer the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai, said after these early reports, new studies were conducted with better methodology that does not confirm that the association between cancer and the very heavy, very high exposure to EMFs.

“Different international and national bodies, including the World Health Organization, have reviewed the entire body of evidence and came to the conclusion that under most circumstances, there is really no risk of exposure to EMFs,” he said. “The high exposure was mainly derived from the wiring configuration within the house, not really outside the house.”

Boffetta said that more research would be needed to confirm the merit of previous studies’ findings under exceptional circumstances.

Although scientists are still studying how EMFs can affect the risk of cancer, experts, such as Santella and Boffetta argued the house of the owners, who currently lives near high voltage power lines may not need to worry.

“I would probably not be terribly worried other than the fact that they are very ugly,” Santella said.

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