EMF Health-effects Research

Incidence of breast cancer in Norwegian female radio and telegraph operators

Tynes T, Hannevik M, Andersen A, Vistnes AI, Haldorsen T

Cancer Causes Control 7(2):197-204, 1996

Exposure to electromagnetic fields may cause breast cancer in women if it increases susceptibility to sex-hormone-related cancer by diminishing the pineal gland's production of melatonin.

We have studied breast cancer incidence in female radio and telegraph operators with potential exposure to light at night, radio frequency (405 kHz-25 MHz), and, to some extent, extremely low frequency fields (50 Hz).

We linked the Norwegian Telecom cohort of female radio and telegraph operators working at sea to the Cancer Registry of Norway to study incident cases of breast cancer. The cohort consisted of 2,619 women who were certified to work as radio and telegraph operators between 1920 and 1980.

Cancer incidence was analyzed on the basis of the standardized incidence ratio (SIR), with the Norwegian female population as the comparison group. The incidence of all cancers was close to unity (SIR = 1.2). An excess risk was seen for breast cancer (SIR = 1.5). Analysis of a nested case-control study within the cohort showed an association between breast cancer in women aged 50+ years and shift work. In a model with adjustment for age, calendar year, and year of first birth, the rate ratio for breast cancer associated with being a radio and telegraph operator--in comparison with all Norwegian women born 1935 or later--analyzed with Poisson regression, was 1.5 after adjustment for fertility factors.

These results support a possible association between work as a radio and telegraph operator and breast cancer. Future epidemiologic studies on breast cancer in women aged 50 and over, should address possible disturbances of chronobiological parameters by environmental factors.

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