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New power line study on link with childhood leukaemia

Press release: embargoed until 00.01 hrs Friday 7th February 2014

Children with Cancer UK notes the publication of the Bunch et al paper in the British Journal of Cancer today [i] and its further exploration of the association between residential proximity to high voltage overhead power lines and childhood leukaemia risk.

More recent data, cases and controls from Scotland

Researchers at the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford extended their previous study of childhood leukaemia and proximity to power lines by including more recent data, cases and controls from Scotland, by considering 132 kV power lines as well as 275 kV and 400 kV and by looking at greater distances from the power lines.  Their report published today concludes that the risk declines after the 1980s.

In 2005, the ‘Draper Study’ [ii], published in the British Medical Journal reported an increased risk of leukaemia in children born in England and Wales between 1962-1995 whose birth address fell within 600 metres of a high voltage power line.

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are created by the presence of electricity. They are produced in varying degrees and strengths by all elements of the electricity supply system – from high-voltage power lines to domestic electrical appliances.

A doubling of the risk of childhood leukaemia with exposure to magnetic fields associated with the electricity supply above 0.3/0.4 microtesla is widely acknowledged. The robustness of this association has been re-affirmed in the recent EU SCENIHR draft Report [iii] and a new pooled analysis of international studies [iv].

Professor Denis Henshaw

Professor Denis Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol and Scientific Advisor to Children with Cancer UK, said: “The report adds weight to the original 2005 findings that children living in proximity to power lines were, until after the 1980s, at increased risk of developing leukaemia.

“We are clear that this report does not alter the widely acknowledged robust association of power frequency magnetic fields with childhood leukaemia risk. That the risk now appears to have diminished is intriguing and at present we can only speculate as to why this may be. This paper highlights the clear need for further research.”

Around 3,600 youngsters, including children and babies, are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK.  Children with Cancer UK funds life-saving research into the causes, prevention and treatment of childhood cancer and works to protect young lives through essential welfare and campaigning programmes.

Ends

[i] Bunch, K.J. et al Residential distance at birth from overhead high-voltage powerlines: childhood cancer risk in Britain 1962-2008 British Journal of Cancer (2014) DOI: 10.1038/bjc201415

[ii] Draper G, Vincent T, Kroll ME, Swanson J (2005) Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study. BMJ 330(7503): 1290–1294.

[iii] Health and food Scientific Committee. Final opinion on Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. https://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/consultations/public_consultations/scenihr_consultation_19_en

[iv] Zhao et al. 2013:  Magnetic fields exposure and childhood leukemia risk: A meta-analysis based on 11,699 cases and 13,194 controls. Leukemia Research (In press).

Notes to editors  Where possible, please include the contact details for more information: www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk  or 020 7404 0808.

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