Electromagnetic fields promote tumours

Electromagnetic fields, similar to those created by overhead power lines, have the potential to promote tumours, according to researchers from Michigan State University.

Though extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) are too weak to convert normal cells to pre-malignant cells, they can cause a pre-malignant cell to develop into a malignant one, James E Trosko, a professor of paediatrics and human development and one of the researchers, explained to edie.

Prior to the research, which is published in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, studies into the effects of ELF-EMF has been inconclusive and contradictory, said Trosko (see related story).

The study involved mouse leukaemia cells, which have the characteristic that when chemically treated they are able to mature as though they were healthy cells. Exposure to electromagnetic fields of 60 hertz, however, caused 35% of the cells to be prevented from maturing into normal healthy cells, instead continuing to proliferate in the manner of cancer cells.

“For decades the Russians and the Israelis have used ELF-EMF to accelerate bone healing,” said Trosko, pointing out that, based on his results, there seems to be a biological explanation for the process. The radiation might stimulate cells to expand and grow, and then mature once the radiation is removed.

“I think it’s important to note that there is a distinction between a biological effect and a health effect,” said Trosko. “Just because I sit under a high power transmission line, and just because that exposure might alter some biological activity in my body, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to get cancer. And if I should get cancer, it does not mean ELF-EMF had anything to do with the production of that particular cancer.”

A hypothetical person sunbathing under overhead power cables, whilst smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of whisky, would be far more likely to develop skin, lung, or liver cancers from the sun, nicotine or alcohol than from the electromagnetic field, explained Trosko. “I would say it is a very distant fourth [as a carcinogen],” he said, pointing out that if fatty food was added to the equation, the ELF-EMF would then fall into fifth place.

The process in which a cell changes from a healthy cell to a cancerous one is long and complex, with different molecular and biochemical steps. Initiated cells then require a promoting agent to bring about cancer, says Trosko. This could be natural hormones or chemicals in food, or man-made chemicals, drugs, or pollutants.

“Most importantly, in order to act as a tumour promoter, many conditions must be met, including the ability of the promoter to overcome natural suppressing effects on cell proliferation, timing of the exposure to the promoter, absence of anti-promoters, and exposure for regular and long periods of time,” said Trosko.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie