Electric blankets are used extensively for the warmth and comfort they provide during cold winter nights. But they have always been doubted for raising the risks of developing cancer. Here is a discussion about how safe electric blankets are, and whether they can actually be a potential cause of cancer in individuals or not.
There has always been a debate on the association of electric blanket and cancer. It is said that its use increases the chances of developing cancer. In children, it is said to cause leukemia, whereas in women, it supposedly causes breast cancer and womb cancer. Several studies have been conducted by many researchers, but no study has by far been able to confirm that electric blankets do lead to breast and womb cancer in women.
Why did the thought of electric blankets causing such health related problems come in the minds of researchers? Let’s try to figure out.
Electric Blankets and Electromagnetic Field
Like all other electric devices and wiring, electric blankets are also surrounded by a zone of energy known as the electromagnetic field (EMF). It comprises two types of fields; namely, electric field and magnetic field. Electric field is formed due to voltage, and magnetic field is formed due to the current flowing through the device.
Out of the two fields, magnetic field is dangerous for human health, as it cannot be contained within barriers like walls, outer covering of electrical devices, etc. It can cross most of the barriers and travel long distances. A magnetic field can also penetrate deep into various tissues of the body. That is why, researchers have long been concerned about the effect of this field on humans.
The electromagnetic energy produced around electrical appliances, including electric blankets, falls under the category of extremely low-frequency radiations. Even though the intensity of magnetic field around an electric blanket is less intense than other household appliances, it has always been considered to be more dangerous.
This is because electric blankets are used continuously for a long duration of time as compared to any other appliance. Around 6-7 hours of continuous exposure to magnetic field increases the body’s susceptibility towards health problems. It is believed that long-term exposure to magnetic field surrounding a plugged-in electric blanket has the potential to cause cancer in an individual.
Breast Cancer Risk Associated with Electric Blanket Use
Researchers have carried out several studies to find out whether electric blankets and breast cancer risk are linked to each other. These studies are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. According to the Electric Blanket Use and Breast Cancer in Nurses’ Health Study, breast cancer and electric blankets were not found to be associated with each other.
Another study carried out to prove this hypothesis was Electric Blanket Use and Breast Cancer Risk among Younger Women. It was a U.S. case-control study involving 2,199 women below 55 years of age. Study results stated that there is little or no risk of breast cancer with the use of electric blankets. It also mentioned that, this risk, does not substantially increase with long duration of use.
It was also hypothesized that electric blankets might be a cause of breast cancer in women after menopause. To study this hypothesis, a research was conducted on women falling under the age bracket of 41-85 years. As a part of the study, 382 patients and 439 controls were asked about their use of electric blankets in the past 10 years. Study findings could not establish any connection between the two. However, it stated that women with long-term exposure to electromagnetic field might be at a slightly higher risk as compared to women who used it less frequently. The study also suggested that further investigations must be carried out to establish the fact.
Womb Cancer Risk Associated with Electric Blanket Use
It is also suspected that womb or endometrial cancer can be associated with the use of electric blanket. Until now, limited research has been carried out on this issue. As per the study, Endometrial Cancer Incidence in Relation to Electric Blanket Use, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, electric blankets and womb cancer were found to be unrelated to each other. The study was a case-control study, involving 148 women with endometrial cancer within the age group of 40-79 years.
Another study, Use of Electric Blankets and Association with Prevalence of Endometrial Cancer , published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention reported opposite results. Data obtained from a health research project involving 93,676 women were studied. It was inferred that use of electric blankets for 20 years or more increased the chances of womb cancer in women.
The above citations clearly suggest that no study could prove that breast cancer can be caused by the use of electric blankets. In case of womb cancer, one study obtained positive results for the hypothesis, while the other obtained negative results. Therefore, as per these studies, the risk of developing cancer is minimal for women using electric blankets.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has not set a safety standard for electromagnetic fields because they are still unclear about safe and unsafe levels of EMFs. Some studies have considered 2 mG as an arbitrary value to differentiate people in different categories of EMF exposure.
As electric blankets can develop an energy zone of EMF that is 5-20 times stronger than the set arbitrary value, researchers consider it as a potential danger to human health. Besides this, electric blankets are also believed to disrupt sleep and lead to fetus malformations and abortions in pregnant women. Many accidents also take place because people ignore electric blanket safety tips that are meant to be followed.
The best way to tackle cancer fear over electric blanket is to take a thoughtful personal decision on its usage. Keeping the reports in mind, one can choose to continue using them because not many cases of health issues have been reported. However, to be on the safe side, one can choose to completely avoid its use, or switch it on for sometime before retiring to bed and turn it off when the bed is sufficiently warm. Other alternatives capable of providing warmth during cold weather, like an extra blanket, flannel sheet, or a hot water bottle can also be used instead of electric blankets to nullify even the slightest risk associated with their use.