OBJECTIVES: To appraise epidemiological evidence of the purported association between residential exposure to power frequency magnetic fields and adult cancers. METHODS: Literature review and epidemiological evaluation. RESULTS: Seven epidemiological studies have been conducted on the risk of cancer among adults in relation to residential exposure to power frequency magnetic fields. Leukaemia was positively associated with magnetic fields in three case-control studies. The other two case-control studies and two cohort studies did not show such a link. Brain tumours and breast cancer have rarely been examined by these studies. Based on the epidemiological results, the analysis of the role of chance and bias, and the criteria for causal inferences, it seems that the evidence is not strong enough to support the putative causal relation between residential exposure to magnetic fields and adult leukaemia, brain tumours, or breast cancer. Inadequate statistical power is far more a concern than selection bias, information bias, and confounding in interpreting the results from these studies, and in explaining inconsistencies between studies. CONCLUSIONS: Our reviews suggested that the only way to answer whether residential exposure to magnetic fields is capable of increasing the risks of adult cancers is to conduct more studies carefully avoiding methodological flaws, in particular small sample size. We also suggested that the risk of female breast cancer should be the object of additional investigations, and that future studies should attempt to include information on exposure to magnetic fields from workplaces as well as residential exposure to estimate the effects of overall exposure to magnetic fields.
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