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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.

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 16, 2010; 3:41 PM ET
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"But researchers of the report noted flaws in the methodology of the long-awaited study."

Who are the "researchers of the report"? Are they the researchers who worked on the study? Or other researches, whose area of research is this particular report?

Posted by: alexanderdean | May 16, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

While the results of this large study were inconclusive, and while there are always limitations to this sort of research, we should recognize that if a link between cellphones and cancer exists (it indeed may), the causality is very slight -- which is why it is so hard to find even with large studies.
We shouldn't forget that cellphones have undoubtedly saved thousands of lives by speeding response times to fires and accidents, thwarting robberies and even tracking abducted individuals. And we shouldn't forget that cellphones have killed thousands who have been using them while driving.
Yes, the cancer link is something worth studying, but it is not the only health impact of cell phones that we should consider.

Posted by: cpmccoy | May 16, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Europe is far ahead of the US in applying the precautionary principle to reduce exposure to potential carcinogens.

In the US, corporate money has effectively bought the research and regulatory organizations: epidemiological studies that might bite into corporate cash-cows simply don't happen.

Posted by: kcx7 | May 16, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

This study had 13 thousand participants. There are 285 million cellphone in use in the US

Has anyone looked at epidemiological effects on whole population
for an increase in meningioma and glioma, over say 10, 20 years?

The 13 thousand person study seems pointless.

Posted by: chicago8 | May 16, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the tobacco industry 40 years ago but the difference this time is our young children are at risk.

Posted by: Weave160 | May 16, 2010 9:22 PM | Report abuse

This is about what was expected with members of the telecom companies on the board of the World Health Organization which is now being examined for corruption by the European Union. A quarter of the money for the study came from industry. The United States refused to participate in the study. Could that be because the Cell Phone industry is a 4 trillion dollar a year industry? Check out:

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Posted by: buxieqi | May 16, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, this is just how the early studies linking cancer and cigarettes were reported.

Thanks for the gentle advance warning.

Posted by: bkru | May 16, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

The incidence of glioma has been increasing in recent years and a far more likely culprit is aspartame (ie the sweetener in diet soda's and other products). Indeed the FDA scientists initially banned the marketing of aspartame precisely on the grounds of carcinogenicity, particularly ... brain tumors in rats. This position was later over-turned by the political leadership of FDA while the evidence both for carcinogenicity and myriad other deleterious health effects from aspartame exposure has continued to accumulate.

Posted by: LincolnsWisdom | May 16, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse

'Results for some groups showed cellphone use appeared to lessen the risk of developing cancers, something the researchers described as "implausible."'

The flight of an airplane is also implausible; as is ...

Flawed science and study and . . . this story is a hodge-podge of words strung together to form a not so informative piece.

Posted by: therev1 | May 17, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that if cell phones cause brain cancer then the cancer should more likely occur on the side of the brain that the cell phone is used. Why not look at brain cancer cases to see if this is true?

Posted by: Jeff10 | May 17, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse

How long did it take to get a conclusive report on the dangers of tobacco to people's health? We're exposed to radiation whether we like it or not. We can only decide how to take the matter into our own hands and choose how we use our cellphones. I'd rather be safe than sorry. I've been reading about an application called Tawkon that can predict the amount of radiation you are being exposed to from your phone. It provides you with advice, such as moving locations in higher exposed areas, or when to switch to a headset. Don't give up your phone. Just use it wisely.

Posted by: jwinter77 | May 20, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

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