Up to now, experimental studies on rodents have failed to provide definitive confirmation of the carcinogenicity of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELFEMF). Two recent studies performed in our laboratory on Sprague-Dawley rats reported a statistically significant increase in malignant tumors of different sites (mammary gland, C-cells carcinoma, hemolymphoreticular neoplasia, and malignant heart Schwannoma) when ELFEMF exposure was associated with exposure to formaldehyde (50 mg/l) or acute low dose of γ-radiation (0.1 Gy) (Soffritti et al., 2016a) (Soffritti et al., 2016b). The same doses of known carcinogenic agents (50 mg/l formaldehyde, or acute 0.1 Gy γ-radiation), when administered alone, previously failed to induce any statistically significant increase in the incidence of total and specific malignant tumors in rats of the same colony.
A lifespan whole-body exposure study was conducted to evaluate the possible carcinogenic effects of ELFEMF exposure administered alone to Sprague-Dawley rats, as part of the integrated project of the Ramazzini Institute (RI) for studying the effects on health of ELFEMF alone or in combination with other known carcinogens.
Male and female Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed 19 h/day to continuous sinusoidal-50 Hz magnetic fields (S-50 Hz MF) at flux densities of 0 (control group), 2, 20, 100 or 1000µT, and to intermittent (30 min on/30 min off) S-50 Hz MF at 1000 µT, from prenatal life until natural death.
Survival and body weight trends in all groups of rats exposed to ELFEMF were comparable to those found in sex-matched controls. The incidence and number of malignant and benign tumors was similar in all groups. Magnetic field exposure did not significantly increase the incidence of neoplasias in any organ, including those sites that have been identified as possible targets in epidemiological studies (leukemia, breast cancer, and brain cancer).
Life-span exposures to continuous and intermittent sinusoidal-50 Hz ELFEMFs, when administered alone, did not represent a significant risk factor for neoplastic development in our experimental rat model. In light of our previous results on the carcinogenic effects of ELFEMF in combination with formaldehyde and γ-radiation, further experiments are necessary to elucidate the possible role of ELFEMF as cancer enhancer in presence of other chemical and physical carcinogens.