According to the results of a study conducted in Mexico City, children with Down syndrome who have high household exposure to magnetic fields (energy produced by power lines and electrical devices) may have an increased risk of developing acute leukemia. These results were published in the journal Epidemiology.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), also called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is a cancer of the bone marrow and lymph system. The bone marrow produces early blood-forming cells, called stem cells, which grow and mature into the three blood cell types: white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissue; and platelets, which help blood to clot.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia is characterized by uncontrolled production of immature lymphocytes (white blood cells), of which there are two types: B and T cells. These immature lymphocytes never mature enough to perform their specific function of fighting infection. In addition, these rapidly dividing cells crowd out and suppress the formation of other important blood cells, such as red blood cells, platelets, and other white blood cells.

ALL is the most common type of leukemia in children. Some early research suggested that high exposure to magnetic fields may increase the risk of childhood leukemia. Other studies, however, failed to find a link.

Children with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing acute leukemia. In order to evaluate whether exposure to magnetic fields increases leukemia risk in this high-risk population of children, researchers in Mexico conducted a study among 166 children with Down syndrome. Forty-two of the children had acute leukemia and the remainder did not.

Information about possible exposure to magnetic fields was collected from two sources: researchers measured magnetic field strength at the front door of the child’s home and also collected information about nearby power lines.

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  • Compared to children with the lowest magnetic field measurements at the front door of their house, children with the highest levels were more than three times more likely to have acute leukemia. Relatively few children (10 of the children with leukemia and 13 of the children without leukemia) experienced this high level of exposure.
  • There was no relationship between the configuration of nearby power lines and risk of leukemia.

The researchers conclude that high levels of exposure to magnetic fields may increase the risk of acute leukemia in children with Down syndrome.

Reference: Mejia-Arangure JM, Fajardo-Gutierrez A, Perez-Saldivar ML et al. Magnetic fields and acute leukemia in children with Down syndrome. Epidemiology 2007;18:158-161.

Related News:Children Living Near High Voltage Power Lines Have Increased Risk of Leukemia(07/14/2005)

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