Cell Phone Link to Tumors Reexamined

The notion of cell phone use being directly linked to increased incidence of brain and other tumors, while treated as urban legend in some circles, has been around almost as long as cell phones. And, as evidenced by an article in the latest issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (December 2009), the idea remains one that not all scientists and doctors are ready to dismiss.

"Cell phones are now used worldwide by more than 3 billion people, and there is increasing heavy use by children," says Michael J. Thun, M.D., MS, American Cancer Society vice president emeritus of epidemiology and surveillance research, in the article. Thun does not say how many of those 3 billion have their phones virtually affixed to their heads all day, but that would seem to be an important factor to throw in the statistical mix. Instead, he notes that roughly 30 epidemiological studies have examined the possible relation between cell phones and benign and malignant brain tumors as well as acoustic neuroma and salivary-gland tumors. Of those 30 studies, most have found no significant associations, Thun reports. But some have confirmed a connection.

According to the CA article, "Nearly all available evidence is from case-control studies with less than 20 years of follow-up since the introduction of cellular telephones, and these studies have some methodological limitations." Thun elaborates on those limitations, seeing the main ones as the need for longer-term follow-up and for the study participants to not already have been diagnosed with cancer so that the data obtained would not have to be considered retrospectively.

The article goes on to note that concerns about cell-phone radiation exposure have prompted several countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, and Finland, to recommend limiting exposure to it, especially for children. CA observes that this recommendation is based on "the Precautionary Principle and the widespread use of cellular telephones, rather than on scientific certainty," but then points out that children's greater susceptibility to such radiation is a concern. "Current epidemiological data cannot dismiss these concerns, because of limited follow-up, especially for children. On the other hand, cellular telephones do not produce ionizing radiation, and the reports of other biological effects of cellular telephones that could effect carcinogenesis have yet to be replicated."

So, while the jury is still officially out on the cell phone-brain tumor link, and while the United States will not likely join the above-named countries in even recommending that citizens conserve their minutes, CA plays it safe and says, by way of conclusion, "[T]hose who are concerned about exposure to electromagnetic fields from cellular telephones can virtually eliminate their exposure by using devices that place the telephone antenna further from their head and can limit use of cellular telephones by their children."

I wish the article would have added, "Oh, and don't use the devices at all while you're driving, because while the tumor connection may be tenuous, the fact that they cause distraction is proven, and, according to the National Safety Council, their use is involved in at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes -- or at least 1.6 million crashes each year. Whether they're causing tumors or not, they're definitely affecting your brain."

Posted by Ronnie Rittenberry on Jan 22, 2010

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