Maternal occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and the risk of brain cancer in the offspring



To examine the contribution of maternal occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) shortly before and during pregnancy on the incidence of childhood brain tumors.


A total of 548 incident cases and 760 healthy controls recruited between 1980 and 2002 from two Canadian provinces (Québec and Ontario) were included in this study, and their mothers were interviewed. Quantitative occupational ELF-MF exposure in microTesla units was estimated using individual exposure estimations or a job exposure matrix. We used three metrics to analyze exposure: cumulative, average, and maximum level attained.


Using the average exposure metric measured before conception, an increased risk was observed for astroglial tumors (OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.0–2.4). During the entire pregnancy period, a significantly increased risk was observed for astroglial tumors as well as for all childhood brain tumors with the average metric (OR = 1.6, 95% CI = 1.1–2.5 and OR = 1.5, 95% CI = 1.1–2.2, respectively). Based on job titles, a twofold risk increase was observed for astroglial tumors (OR = 2.3, 95% CI = 0.8–6.3) and for all childhood brain tumors (OR = 2.3, 95% CI = 1.0–5.4) among sewing machine operators.


Results are suggestive of a possible association between maternal occupational ELF-MF exposure and certain brain tumors in their offspring.

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Claire Infante-Rivard holds a Canada Research Chair-James McGill Professorship from McGill University. The authors want to thank Drs. Mariam El-Zein and Jan Deadman for their work on the pilot study comparing coded exposures between a nonexpert and an expert. This work was supported from grants from the Fonds de la recherche en Santé du Québec and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

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Correspondence to Claire Infante-Rivard.

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Li, P., McLaughlin, J. & Infante-Rivard, C. Maternal occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields and the risk of brain cancer in the offspring. Cancer Causes Control 20, 945–955 (2009).

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  • Brain neoplasms
  • Childhood neoplasms
  • Occupational exposure
  • Maternal exposure
  • Electromagnetic fields