Cellphone cancer study inconclusive; researcher urges more study
A large international study into the link between cellphone use and two kinds of brain cancer produced inconclusive results, according to a report to be released Tuesday in Geneva.
But researchers of the report noted flaws in the methodology of the long-awaited study. And they urge more investigation into the topic to account for how cellphone use is affecting the health of youths, who are among the fastest growing population of cellphone users. The head researchers of the project said the behavior of cellphone users has changed since the study was launched in 2000, which calls for fresh research on the topic. The study's results echo past research that the cellphone industry has cited for nearly two decades -- a murky picture that there is not a conclusive link between cellphone use and cancer nor conclusive results that such a connection isn't possible.
The U.S. was not a participating member of the 13-nation long-term epidemiological study.
The survey of almost 13,000 participants found cellphone use didn't increase the risk of developing meningioma — a common and frequently benign tumor — or glioma — a rarer but deadlier form of cancer.
The 10-year study, which was conducted by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded there were "suggestions" that heavy use could increase the risk of glioma but "biases and error prevent a causal interpretation" that would directly blame cellphone radiation for the tumor.
Heavy use was defined as 30 minutes or more of calls a day.
But the leaders of the project acknowledged that the study had flaws.
They said one source of possible inaccuracies was the fact that participants were asked to remember how much and on which ear they used their mobiles over the past decade. Results for some groups showed cellphone use appeared to lessen the risk of developing cancers, something the researchers described as "implausible."
"This was a very complex study, and results were very difficult to interpret because of a number of methodological issues," said Elisabeth Cardis at the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, who led the group of 21 international scientists conducting the study.
Scientists interviewed 12,848 participants, of which 5,150 had either meningioma or glioma tumors.
Almost a quarter of the $23.98 million study required to fund the study was provided by the cellphone industry.
The nations that participated included Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. Cardis said in an e-mail exchange that the group of researchers had "hoped that the U.S. would participate" but that epidemiologists from various universities in the U.S. weren't able to get funding for the project. When asked why the U.S. cellphone industry didn't participate in the Interphone study, a spokesperson for trade group CTIA referred me to the National Cancer Institute.
Last month, five European nations launched a 30-year study called the Cohort Study on Mobile Communications. A spokesperson for CTIA, when asked why the U.S. isn't involved, said the U.S. cellphone industry wasn't asked to participate.
As of December 2009, there were 285 million cell phones in use in the U.S., covering 91 percent of the population, according to CTIA.
Material from Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this post.
May 16, 2010; 3:41 PM ET
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