Animal studies on the role of 50/60-Hertz magnetic fields in carcinogenesis

Life Sci. 1994;54(21):1531-43. Review.
Löscher W, Mevissen M.
Life Sci. 1994;54(21):1531-43. Review.
Reduction of circulating levels of melatonin.
50/60-Hz MF

A number of epidemiological studies have suggested that exposure to 50/60-Hz magnetic fields (MF) from power lines and electrical equipment may be associated with a modestly increased incidence of various types of cancer. Laboratory studies have indicated that nonionizing radiation has no mutagenic effect, i.e. does not initiate cancer. Thus, if 50/60-Hz MF are truly associated with an increased risk of cancer, then these fields must act as a promoter or co-promoter of cancer in cells that have already been initiated. This paper reviews the evidence produced by animal studies. As shown in this review, the available animal data on 50/60-Hz MF exposures seem to indicate that intermediate MF exposure exerts co-promoting effects in different tumor models, particularly cocarcinogenesis models of breast cancer, while chronic (up to life-time) exposure may exert promoting effects on "spontaneous" development of certain tumors. The tumor promoting or co-promoting effects of 50/60-Hz MF exposure found in several animal studies could relate to actions of MF on gene expression, immune surveillance, and Ca2+ homeostasis as demonstrated by in vitro experiments in cell cultures. However, the most plausible evidence for an in vivo effect of MF exposure which could be related to tumor promotion is reduction of circulating levels of melatonin, i.e. a hormone which is inhibitory to the growth of a wide range of cancers, particularly breast cancer. Animal studies have shown that 50-Hz MF exposure at flux densities as low as 0.3-1 mu Tesla significantly reduces nocturnal melatonin levels in plasma. While decrease of melatonin levels alone could explain tumor promoting or co-promoting effects of MF exposure, recent data indicate that MF exposure also impairs the effects of melatonin at the cellular level. Thus, the oncostatic effect of melatonin on cell proliferation of a human breast cancer cell line was antagonized by 60-Hz MF exposure at a flux density of about 1 mu Tesla. All these data indicate that interactions between 50/60-HZ MF exposure and melatonin may be the key mechanism of any carcinogenic effects. Although the existing experimental evidence is still insufficient for discerning a cause-effect relationship for MF exposure and human disease or injury, it does suggest the need for further laboratory research under well-defined laboratory exposure conditions to allow for a realistic assessment of the possible health risks and their magnitude.