Study Fails to Answer Questions About Cell Phones and Cancer Risk
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A few months ago in my blog post “Brain Tumor Risk and Cell Phones,” I mentioned the Interphone study — the largest research undertaking to date on the potential effects of cell phone use and brain cancer risk — and how it could potentially define a relationship between cell phones and brain tumors. The study was published in May in theInternational Journal of Epidemiology, and the official results were largely inconclusive.
The Interphone researchers said that overall, an increased risk of brain cancer due to cell phone use could not be firmly established, but that they also can’t establish an absence of risk, either.
Given the size and scope of this study, in which researchers interviewed nearly 13 million people in 13 countries between 2000 and 2004, why were there no clear answers? In my opinion, its design and methodology had some considerable problems that made a significant impact on its final conclusions.
One problem lies in the study’s definition of a “heavy user,” which it classified as those who spent approximately 30 minutes per day on their cell phones. That could have been the case between 2000 and 2004, when cell phones were — for the most part — used primarily when out and about, and landlines were still common. But the amount of time people now spend on their cell phones is much higher;averageuse in the United States now is 21 minutes a day, and we all know people who use their phones far more. In other words, the study’s characterizations of cell phone usage are simply out of date with today’s patterns and standards.
And despite the overall conclusion, the study did find that “heavy users” appeared to have an increased risk of gliomas (malignant brain tumors) and meningiomas (benign brain tumors that develop in the thin membranes which cover the brain and spinal cord), compared with non-users and infrequent users (defined as those who made less than one call per week). However, the study stated that biases and errors limited the strength of these findings, and cause and effect could not be established.
Secondly, the Interphone study only interviewed adults age 30 and over, who were asked how much and on which ear they used their cell phones over the past 10 years. I do not believe 10 years is adequate, since environmental risks take a very long time – often decades — to accurately measure.
Today’s children and teens are exposed to cell phones and their radio frequency waves very early on, when their brains are still developing. The effects of such early-age exposure, as well as sustained, long-term exposure over many decades of their lifetimes, are still unknown. A new study is set to begin, funded by the European Union, to investigate the risk of brain tumors among children and teens using cell phones.
A third limitation in the study involves the growing use of Bluetooth and other wireless in-ear devices. Although they rest even closer to the brain than cell phones and are often placed in the ear for extended periods of time, Interphone researchers excluded their use in the study. However, they did find that the highest risk found was for tumors on the side of the head where users held their phone, particularly for tumors in the temporal lobe closest to the ear. With this in mind, I believe the use of wireless in-ear devices and any links to cancer risk need more attention and investigation.
Cell phones are a necessary part of everyday life for many people, including myself. The results of the Interphone study may not show a definitive link between cell phone use and brain tumors, but given the many issues surrounding its approach and design, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I continue to encourage you to do what I do and use a wired — not wireless — earpiece. Cell phone usage for children should be limited; as an alternative, consider text-only mobile devices, which keeps radio frequency waves farther from the brain.
Mind your health,
Dr. Keith Black
For more information on brain tumors and treatment options, visit the .
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