Cell Phones and Cancer: The Age Old Story

A special feature from Medscape Oncology explores both sides of this highly controversial issue.

A report from the International Electromagnetic Field Collaborative released a report in August 2009 concluding that studies outside those done by telecom industries show that there is significant risk for brain cancer, and that the danger of tumours is highest in children and the younger a child is when they begin using a cell phone, the higher the risk.

Cell phones are part of our everyday lives. Indeed many people are completely reliant on their phones for practically all day to day functions. Whether for work, emergencies, or just another method of communications, these wireless devices are a necessary part of our modern society. From high school to university to the workplace. From the young to the old. The number of cellphones in the world is growing at an alarming rate.

Hence people ask the traditional question: “Is it safe?”

There have been studies done almost since the invention of mobile phones to find an answer. Since then most have yielded inconclusive results. However studies done outside the industry have more consistently shown an increased risk of tumours after ten or more years of exposure. On the surface it seems like a long time, but look at it this way. If a child receives his/her first cell phone at age 10, then by the time they are 20, they have increased their risk for brain cancer. By this time they haven’t even finished their schooling.

The study that was thought to have conclusively decided that there was no relation between cell phones and brain cancer was the Interphone study, results of which have still yet to be published, but of which partial results are available. This study was industry funded and it found pretty much no increased risk for brain tumours. In stark contrast an independent Swedish study reported many findings with an increased risk of tumours after prolonged usage. This is one of the strongest pieces of evidence in regards to the ill effects of cell phones. Researchers also reported younger users were at higher risk, and that the highest risk was among those who began using cell phones before the age of twenty.

In 1993-99, Dr. Carlo conducted the Wireless Technology Research program. Their results were not only unexpected, but alarming. The researchers found that cell phone radiation disrupted the blood brain barrier and disrupted DNA repair. When they attempted to inform the industry to warn the public they were met by harsh opposition. The industry was too young, and no one expected cell phones to be a risk. Not only that but this finding was the first of its kind and therefore not strong enough to have a real voice.

In recent years, researchers have found limitations in their own studies as well as older papers. Swedish researchers in a 2009 review, reported that studies do not demonstrate an increased risk of any kind of tumour via use of cell phones. Another study from an update issued by the Royal Society of Canada concluded that although there is no clear evidence for adverse effect on health, continued research is required and encouraged.

As always there are those who do not agree. Dr. Sam Milham, an epidemiologist at Washington State Department of Health says that all negative studies have been flawed as brain tumours have a long latency period to begin with and these are the kinds of tumours for which the risk is elevated. He continues to say that “putting a cell phone against your head is like putting one side of your head against a microwave oven.”

One of the main problems with all of the studies conducted is that there hasn’t been enough time for a follow-up, nor has there been any quantitative assessment conducted. Exposure assessment is based on people’s memories on how they were using cell phones however long in the past. The biggest problem with the results showing damage to the blood brain barrier is that there haven’t been any other groups able to duplicate the effect.

Many countries have begun to change cell phone laws. In France a potential ban is being investigated which will inhibit cell phone advertising directed towards children under the age of 12 and sales of cell phones for children under 6. In Ontario, a very recent piece of legislature has been passed banning cell phone use in vehicles without a hands-free headset.

There are many ways people can reduce their exposure to cell phones. The most obvious of these are to purchase a wired or wireless headset. Though wired headsets are better, wireless headsets still reduce a lot of the radiation. Avoiding use while moving in a vehicle or using speaker-phone will also aid in reduction.

I see every day at least a hundred people talking on their cell phones daily on campus. If even university students alone began to utilize methods to reduce exposure, whether or not there is a direct correlation, there will be a definite reduction in overall radiation on the planet in the future.

For more on this: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/710492

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