I occasionally encounter a nasty rumor that cell phones can cause brain cancer. But is there any truth to this? First, if these phones did cause such dire results, given the huge number of such phones in use these days, wouldn’t that translate to a massive pandemic of brain tumors? Since that is clearly not the case, this should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism. But in order to get a definitive answer, we must apply scientific methods. So let’s look at a new large study:
An analysis of data from nearly 800,000 women in the U.K. revealed that there were no associations with brain tumors in women who talked at least 20 minutes a week on a cell phone or had at least 10 years of use, according to a research report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“This large-scale study adds to the accumulating evidence that ordinary use of mobile phones is not associated with an increased risk of developing brain tumors,” said lead author Dr. Joachim Schuez of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. “Before the widespread use of mobile technology, most people did not get close to devices that emit radio-frequency electromagnetic fields,” Schuez stated. “Mobile phones are now used by virtually everyone, and as these devices are held directly against the head it is important to make sure that the relevant research is conducted.”
“Mobile technologies are constantly evolving so it is important to continue surveillance to make sure that use of these devices poses no risk,” he added. “As a precautionary approach, heavy users of mobile phones may choose to reduce their exposure by using headsets or speakerphones when taking calls of long duration.”
To take a closer look at the possible connection between cell phone use and brain cancers, the researchers turned to the UK National Health Service Breast Screening Program, which from 1996 to 2001 recruited 1.3 million women born between 1935 and 1950 to participate in the program. The women completed a postal questionnaire about demographic, medical and lifestyle factors at the outset and then were resurveyed every three to five years. Questions about cell phone use were asked in 2001 and again in 2011.
The women were followed via record linkage to the UK National Health Service Central Register, with information tabulated on deaths and cancer rates. During the 14 years of follow-up of 776,156 women who completed the 2001 questionnaire, a total of 3,268 incident tumors were documented. When the researchers accounted for variables such as smoking, alcohol consumption, hormone replacement therapy, exercise and body weight, they found adjusted relative risks for ever versus never cell phone use were 0.97 for brain tumors of all types, meaning that these phone exposures posed to excessive risks. When they compared users to never-users, no statistically significant associations were found, even for those using cell phones daily for at least 10 years. Looking specifically at tumors occurring in the parts of the brain most likely to be exposed to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields from cellular telephones, the researchers again found no added risks. Moreover, over the last 30 years, there has actually been a decreased overall worldwide incidence of brain tumors.
So, once again has science has allowed us to dispel another nasty rumor, to the relief of almost everyone—myself included!