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Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7503.1290 (Published 02 June 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1290
  1. Gerald Draper, honorary senior research fellow (gerald.draper{at}ccrg.ox.ac.uk)1,
  2. Tim Vincent, research officer1,
  3. Mary E Kroll, statistician1,
  4. John Swanson, scientific adviser2
  1. 1 Childhood Cancer Research Group, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6HJ
  2. 2 National Grid Transco plc, London WC2N 5EH
  1. Correspondence to: G J Draper
  • Accepted 6 April 2005

Abstract

Objective To determine whether there is an association between distance of home address at birth from high voltage power lines and the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers in children in England and Wales.

Design Case-control study.

Setting Cancer registry and National Grid records.

Subjects Records of 29 081 children with cancer, including 9700 with leukaemia. Children were aged 0-14 years and born in England and Wales, 1962-95. Controls were individually matched for sex, approximate date of birth, and birth registration district. No active participation was required.

Main outcome measures Distance from home address at birth to the nearest high voltage overhead power line in existence at the time.

Results Compared with those who lived > 600 m from a line at birth, children who lived within 200 m had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69 (95% confidence interval 1.13 to 2.53); those born between 200 and 600 m had a relative risk of 1.23 (1.02 to 1.49). There was a significant (P < 0.01) trend in risk in relation to the reciprocal of distance from the line. No excess risk in relation to proximity to lines was found for other childhood cancers.

Conclusions There is an association between childhood leukaemia and proximity of home address at birth to high voltage power lines, and the apparent risk extends to a greater distance than would have been expected from previous studies. About 4% of children in England and Wales live within 600 m of high voltage lines at birth. If the association is causal, about 1% of childhood leukaemia in England and Wales would be attributable to these lines, though this estimate has considerable statistical uncertainty. There is no accepted biological mechanism to explain the epidemiological results; indeed, the relation may be due to chance or confounding.

Footnotes

  • Contributors GD was responsible for overall direction of the study and publication. GD and JS had the initial idea and designed the study. TV and MEK collected information on cases and controls and carried out the statistical analysis. JS assessed exposures. GD and JS are guarantors

  • Funding This study was undertaken as part of a project funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health Radiation Protection Programme. The Childhood Cancer Research Group also receives funding from the Department of Health and the Scottish Ministers. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Department of Health and the Scottish Ministers. National Grid Transco provided staff time but no other funding.

  • Competing interests JS is employed by National Grid Transco and worked on this project with their permission. A written contract exists between the Childhood Cancer Research Group and National Grid Transco specifying that the Childhood Cancer Research Group has complete control over the conduct, interpretation, and publication of this study; this paper has not been approved by anyone in National Grid Transco other than JS in his capacity as author and does not necessarily represent National Grid Transco's views

  • Ethical approval The Childhood Cancer Research Group has local ethics committee approval and, through membership of the UK Association of Cancer Registries, has approval from the Patient Information Advisory Group with respect to cancer registration function.

  • Accepted 6 April 2005
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