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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/21/2011

The latest on cellphones and cancer risk

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

If people are still worried that using cellphones may cause cancer, they sure don't act like it. Have you noticed any drop in the number of people driving with phones mashed up against their ears or shouting into them at Starbucks or the supermarket?

Me neither.

A flurry of research over the past two decades has aimed to tease out whether such a link exists. The latest study, quietly published in the journal Bioelectromagnetics in January, suggests that it does not.

The no-nonsense paper, by researchers from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh and Drexel University in Philadelphia, analyzed data for cases of brain cancer reported by the UK Office of National Statistics from 1998 to 2007. If the radio frequencies cellphones emit caused brain cancer, the team reasoned, there would have been a notable uptick in the number of such cancers in cellphone-using societies during the past 20 years as cellphone use has risen. In short, the paper finds, no such uptick is evident.

This paper is especially convincing because it accounts for the amount of time between exposure to radiation and the onset of cancer. Assuming it takes 5 to 10 years after exposure for brain cancer to appear, the authors observe, there would have been a rise in the number of such cancer cases in the UK during the years included in the study, as they would reflect exposures occurring between 1990 and 2002.

The paper concludes:

Our analysis suggest that the increased and widespread use of mobile phones, which in some studies was associated to increased brain cancer risk, has not led to a noticeable increase in the incidence of brain cancer in England between 1998 and 2007. Therefore, it is very unlikely we are "at the forefront of a cancer epidemic" related to mobile phone use. A small increased rate of brain cancers in the temporal lobe was observed corresponding to the time period when mobile phone use increased from 0 to 65% of households. However, to put this into perspective: if this specific rise in tumour incidence was caused by mobile phone use this would contribute to less than 1 new case per 100,000 population in a decade. We cannot exclude the possibility that there are persons who are susceptible or some rare brain cancers are associated with to RF from mobile phones. However, we interpret the present data as not indicating a pressing need to implement the precautionary principle to reduce exposure to RF from mobile phones by means of population-wide interventions.

So, are you convinced? Or do you still fear that heavy cellphone use may yet be tied to brain-cancer risk?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 21, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer, Prevention  
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Comments

Anyone with a smattering of physics knowledge
can tell you it is not possible for cell phones to cause cancer. For radiation to cause
cancer it must have a high enough frequency to
break chemical bonds. It is the breaking of
chemical bonds that causes DNA mutations.
All these studies are a complete waste of money and researchers time. Keeping the cell phone on your ear for hours on end may soften your brain but will not cause cancer.

Posted by: serban1 | February 21, 2011 9:59 AM | Report abuse

This wasn't a study this was reading statistics and saying I don't see anything in the numbers so it must be OK. Who funded this study.What doctor would admit a brain tumor was caused by cellphone use?That doctor would be sued so fast by cellphone companies. Look at San Francisco just for adding a more visible disclosure of SAR ratings they are being sued.Come on those of us who still have a brain left know better.

Posted by: Weave160 | February 21, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Since virtually no one HAD a cell phone in 1990, AND usage didn't peak until after the time frame of the study, this is a worthless piece of garbage!

If you REALLY wanted to do a study, you would have gone to a place like South Korea which had cell phones at a much earlier date and used them for a much greater variety of things, rather than a backwater like the UK.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | February 21, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I have no knowledge of physics, but after caring for my son for 10 months as he died of brain cancer 2 years ago I will tell you this:He used ONLY a cell phone from 1992 until he died. The primary tumor was just above his ear that he used the cellphone on. His radiation oncologist felt that cellphone use "had everything to do with the tumor". He died blind, 100# heavier (from steroids to keep his brain from swelling and exploding down the base of his skull), unable to walk, etc.Now I ask you---why would anyone take a chance? Use an earpiece!This is NOT the way you want to die.

Posted by: maizieellen | February 21, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

The radio frequency energy may have a heating effect if it is enough power and close enough to the brain. I wonder what studies have been done on this possible phenomenon. Let's all Google this.

I try to put my cell on speakerphone and hold it away from my head, although I forget sometimes.

Posted by: scottandrewtaylor | February 21, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

For "serban1": Sir, you need to do your homework, you are wrong. Anyone with a "smattering"of biology knowledge would know that effects can be direct and indirect, cancer may be cause either by genotoxic (that means: breaking the chromosome) or non-genotoxic (that means: not breaking the chromosome, FYI: epigenetic events) mechanisms. You have a lot to read, and my friendly advice is to do so, before you post nonsense, because your argument is deeply flawed. Best of luck in reading. Regards.

Posted by: Rick87 | February 21, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Just because cellphone microwave radiation doesn't cause cancer, doesn't mean that it is harmless.

For example, carbon monoxide gas doesn't cause cancer, either, but it can be fatal in a large enough dose.

Microwave radiation can have effects well below the intensity required to cause heat damage, and heat damage is the only consideration determining FCC regulations on cell phone microwave dose. The best example of such a nonthermal effect is the one known as "microwave hearing", which has been studied intensively in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, including the prestigious Science magazine.

Microwave hearing and related phenomena are reviewed and criticized in http://www.scribd.com/doc/45663757/Biological-Effects-of-Microwaves-Thermal-and-Nonthermal-Mechanisms (an earlier version is posted at http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0102007).

The ignorance, or possibly dissimulation, of people experimenting with the cancer idea is appalling, because they never bother to cite the existing literature on real effects of microwaves on human beings.

Posted by: jmmwillix | February 21, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

My daughter's 29 yo boyfriend was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor in November 2010. He is being treated at the Froedert Cancer Center in Milwaukee. That was my question to them for their physician. He says the data doesn't support that cell phones cause brain tumors; however, the caveat is (according to the physician) is there's not enough data to draw a conclusion. People have not had heavy cell phone usage except for the past 5-8 years. I believe it will take time to determine if there is a relationship of cell phones to brain cancer.

Posted by: BethfromDarnestown | February 21, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Then, why the huge uptick in brain cancers?

I know more people who are victims of
brain cancer than all other cancers
combined. These brain cancer victims
ALL use(d) cellphones as their primary
source of communication!

Posted by: Sirius2 | February 21, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Then, why the huge uptick in brain cancers?

I know more people who are victims of
brain cancer than all other cancers
combined. These brain cancer victims
ALL use(d) cellphones as their primary
source of communication!

Posted by: Sirius2 | February 21, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Tell me, I know Steve Jobs has cancer, is there any way his cancer is related to his use of his own products. Iphones are extremely powerful from what I hear. Wearing on the hip? Can that kind of radiation pass into one's internal organs also. Just a thought, may be way out of the spectrum. Any experts out can answer or give us an idea of this remote possibility?

Posted by: Fred23 | February 21, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Tell me, I know Steve Jobs has cancer, is there any way his cancer is related to his use of his own products. Iphones are extremely powerful from what I hear. Wearing on the hip? Can that kind of radiation pass into one's internal organs also. Just a thought, may be way out of the spectrum. Any experts out can answer or give us an idea of this remote possibility?

Posted by: Fred23 | February 21, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Fred 23: I don't know about Steve Jobs, but that's a good point. My cellphone that I got 3 months ago has, in the back of the instruction booklet, a part on warnings. It says to wear a cellphone in a leather case with it pointing either facing or away from the body---sorry I don't use it that way so I don't remember which it was.Also, not to wear it in a pocket. Check it out. My son was diagnosed with his brain tumor the day after Ted Kennedy. Kennedy lived 5 months longer than my son. I also know a developer in Washington who is suffering from the same type of tumor.

Posted by: maizieellen | February 21, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The number of people here giving a single data point and then acting as if it proves anything is staggering.

Posted by: charlesbakerharris | February 21, 2011 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Rick87 - kudos for using the term epigenetics, but you don't make a case for suspecting that cell phone radiation could cause/inhibit acetylation or methylation (or other chromatin-shape-changing events).

It's a pretty simple matter to determine if the frequency fits into bands absorbed by any of the bonds in cell materials - I haven't done an exhaustive search, but perhaps you have - want to share?

Posted by: drmary | February 21, 2011 5:54 PM | Report abuse

@maizeellen, Sorry to hear about your son's illness. As for the protective cases, I've heard that they can increase the signal strength (and radiation) as the cell phone "works harder" to connect to a tower, which sounds plausible. There's also a list available that compares the EMF of specific phones to each other. Here's the source: ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/8-Safety-Tips but use the www in front.

Posted by: rem24 | February 21, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Think about what happened with tobacco and asbestos--where we are only now recovering from epidemics of preventable diseases.

For decades, scientists provided experimental evidence that these compounds caused cancer and other damage in laboratory studies. These were dismissed. We debated whether these agents could actually harm humans for decades, and only acted to restrict and control exposures after irrefutable evidence of human harm was amassed around the world.

Cell phones were not heavily used when this study began to analyze tumors. Brain cancers tied with ionizing radiation did not increase in survivors until 40 years after the atomic bombings in Japan. Of course, there's no general population increase in brain tumors just a decade after cell began to be used.

Regarding this study Allan Frey, a well-known expert in the field of bioelectromagnetics, noted:

“It is well established in the scientific literature that generally a cancer is not seen until 10 to 30 years after the exposure to an agent. In addition, the radio frequency-biological literature shows that cancer is not seen until at least 10 years after the exposure, which is consistent with the rest of the scientific literature.”

In criticizing this study, Frey points out that “The authors analyzed data on brain tumors gathered before most of their study population owned a cell phone. Also, most of their population did not have a cell phone for more than 5 years. Thus, the authors knew or should have known, that if cell phones induced or promoted brain cancer that their study would not have shown it. Yet they concluded that their study showed that there was no need for “… interventions to reduce radio frequency exposure from mobile phones” that are used today.”

In fact, there is evidence of an increased rate of brain tumors (both benign and malignant) in young adults in the U.S. Every well designed study to have examined the issue carefully finds that after ten years of heavy use there's a doubled risk of brain cancer. Most studies have followed people for too short a time period or with limited exposures.

The absence of definitive human evidence does not provide proof of safety. More information on all this can be found at www.ehtrust.org

Posted by: ehtrust | February 21, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

DrMary: thanks for your words. I pointed out, in response to the other person's post, that he was wrong in asserting that an exposure needs to break the DNA in order to cause cancer. That is wrong, and it's been proven repeatedly for various agents. Many chemicals are known to be carcinogenic without being mutagenic.

Going back to the idea of cell phones, non ionizing radiation was repeatedly shown to cause changes in protein expression levels. These experiments originate from animals and humans, in vitro and in vivo studies. Of course there is no certainty, (as there is no "certainty" that a specific plume of smoke lead to one specific person's cancer), but there is a pretty good chance that changes are epigenetic. This needs to be tested. Until then, since we know that cell phone radiation changes protein expression, and we know that proteins govern everything in our cells, I would say, it's better to be cautious and safe, than sorry. Common sense. Thanks again for your post.

Posted by: Rick87 | February 21, 2011 7:39 PM | Report abuse

The truth is not as important as what I believe to be true.

Posted by: marinomd667 | February 21, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Have there been any studies on potential increases in testicular or ovarian cancer from cell phone users who use an earphone and keep the phone in the groin area?

Posted by: TheChileanPresidentIsMuchBetterRespondingToDisastersThanObama | February 21, 2011 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Seriously? When cell phones are known distractions contributing to accidents and deaths we are worried about brain cancer?

Posted by: tbos805 | February 21, 2011 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I agree that people don't act like cell phones cause cancer. Just like when safety belts were introduced, people need to change the way they use cell phones and use them more safely. These changes can help reduce the risks of health effects associated with using a cell phone. See cell phone safety tips at www.centerforsaferwireless.org.

In 1998 many people were not using cell phones and when they were in use, it was for a short period of time. (For example average cell phone user in the Interphone Study, a widely recognized international study, spoke for on average 30 minutes a day.) The study cited in this article covers 9 years.

People won't be using a cell phone fo 9 years, they will be using them for approximately 20,30, 40, or 50 years. No one knows what the long-term health effects of placing a transmitter up against his/her brain for this extended period of time.

We do know the long-term health effects from cigarettes, asbestos, lead, radon, and benzene. We know how each related-industry dragged it's feet for years before we understood the full heath effects.

The wireless industry will keep creating doubt and funding studies of less than 10 years. Maybe it's because all but one study of cell phone use for more than 10 years shows a statistically significant increased risk of a glioma (malignant brain tumor) and acoustic neuroma (benign brain tumor).

It's not just brain tumors, research has shown that cell phone use can reduce the quality of sperm. Check out the research at http://www.centerforsaferwireless.org/Research.php

Our FCC regulations regarding wireless technology only cover thermal radation, but cell phones use non-thermal radiation. Therefore, US government regulations are not adequately protecting US citizens.

People need to read the long-term research and take precautions with cell phones. Children and pregnant women are particularly a risk.

Posted by: choch1 | February 21, 2011 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Why does the article not mention that the study being discussed DID find an increase in brain tumors in the temporal lobe? When they averaged over the whole brain, there was no effect, but if you look just in the region closest to the phone, the tumor rate IS going up.

The authors of the study comfort us by saying the increase is only 1 in 100,000 users. But this is only in the first 10 years.

As for the "smattering of physics" comments above, I agree with Rick (and I have a Ph.D. in physics from a top school, plus I know some actual biology).
Most physicists don't even know that there is magnetite in the skull, and that bones are piezo-electric.

Posted by: phD_biophysicist | February 21, 2011 11:48 PM | Report abuse

What a strange way to end the article:

"So, are you convinced? Or do you still fear that heavy cellphone use may yet be tied to brain-cancer risk?"

Dear Author, are you just trying to "mix it up?" Sit back and watch the fray? You mention one study in a vacuum, and wonder if it convinces people---what is your point?

You'd have contributed more to the knowledge of humankind by referring the reader to the BioInitiative website, where he or she could actually get an education in what is happening in EMF research.

Posted by: msagen | February 23, 2011 11:32 PM | Report abuse

What a strange way to end the article:

"So, are you convinced? Or do you still fear that heavy cellphone use may yet be tied to brain-cancer risk?"

Dear Author, are you just trying to "mix it up?" Sit back and watch the fray? You mention one study in a vacuum, and wonder if it convinces people---what is your point?

You'd have contributed more to the knowledge of humankind by referring the reader to the BioInitiative website, where he or she could actually get an education in what is happening in EMF research.

Posted by: msagen | February 23, 2011 11:35 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this article are, I believe, a consequence of the lack of scientific literacy in the US. I'm sorry about the person who lost someone to brain cancer, but anecdotes are not evidence. The comment about Steve Jobs is equally absurd.

By the logic of intuition, one could easily argue that WMDs really are in Iraq, but we haven't found them yet. Or that global warming doesn't exist because it was a cold winter.

I prefer to make evidence based decisions about my health and well-being.

Posted by: jboogie1 | February 25, 2011 9:50 AM | Report abuse

After so many studies about the link between cellular phones and cancer, there is still no evidence. Yet people keep demanding that more studies are necessary.

Remember what Einstein said about insanity?

I suppose sooner or later, some researcher will get lucky and find a sample population with a higher occurrence of tumors than the general population before cell phone usage. Then all of you will parrot that study as if it is not merely a coincidence.

Posted by: jboogie1 | February 25, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Then, why the huge uptick in brain cancers?
I know more people who are victims of

brain cancer than all other cancers

combined. These brain cancer victims

ALL use(d) cellphones as their primary

source of communication!
Posted by: Sirius2 | February 21, 2011 2:56 PM
| Report abuse

That's interesting. I don't know anyone who has had brain cancer. According to the study there is no uptick. What shall we believe: your intuition, my intuition, or actual evidence?

Posted by: jboogie1 | February 25, 2011 10:11 AM | Report abuse

252n, why the huge uptick in brain cancers?
I know more people who are victims of

brain cancer than all other cancers

combined. These brain cancer victims

ALL use(d) cellphones as their primary

source of communication!
Posted by: Sirius2 | February 21, 2011 2:56 PM
| Report abuse

That's interesting. I don't know anyone who has had brain cancer. According to the study there is no uptick. What shall we believe: your intuition, my intuition, or actual evidence?

Posted by: jboogie1 | February 25, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

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