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Overhead powerlines do not raise leukaemia risk in children

by British Journal of Cancer | News

7 February 2014

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Children who live near overhead power lines in early life do not have a greater risk of developing childhood leukaemia, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

“This study is reassuring for anxious parents, as it indicates that overhead power lines don’t cause leukaemia or other cancers in children” – Dr Julie Sharp

Researchers from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at the University of Oxford found that there was no increased risk of leukaemia in children born since the 1990s whose mother lived within a kilometre of overhead power lines.

The study consisted of nearly 16,500 children who were diagnosed with leukaemia in Britain between 1962 and 2008.

An earlier study using information on childhood leukaemia diagnosed between 1962 and 1995 had suggested that there was an elevated risk for children born within 600 metres of overhead power lines. This new study includes children diagnosed up until 2008, and finds that children born after the 1980s don’t have an increased risk.

This strongly suggests that there is no direct biological effect of power lines on leukaemia risk. The previous findings could be explained by changes in the characteristics of people living near power lines, or be down to chance or problems with the study design.

Kathryn Bunch, lead author on the study, said: “It’s very encouraging to see that in recent decades there has been no increased risk of leukaemia among children born near overhead power lines. More research is needed to determine precisely why previous evidence suggested a risk prior to 1980, but parents can be reassured from the findings of this study that overhead power lines don’t increase their child’s risk of leukaemia.”

This research used cancer information drawn from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours, which has kept records of nearly all children diagnosed since 1962, linked with birth records for those born in Britain**.

Overall, leukaemia is the eleventh most common cancer in the UK, but it accounts for around a third of all cancers diagnosed in children. Around 460 new cases of leukaemia are diagnosed in children under the age of 15 each year in Great Britain.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “There has been a lot of concern that overhead power lines could increase the risk of cancer, particularly leukaemia, in children. This study is reassuring for anxious parents, as it indicates that overhead power lines don’t cause leukaemia or other cancers in children.”


For media enquiries contact the BJC press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059

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