Study Sends Fuzzy Signals on
Cell Phone Cancer Connection
If you’ve always been suspicious that regular cell phones might trigger cancer, a recent finding could make your paranoia soar.
A decade-long international study suggests that people who hold frequent and lengthy cell phone conversations—with their ears pressed to the phone while doing so—may increase their risk of developing brain cancer.
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The study also indicates that at lower levels of usage, phone radiation exposure actually decreased the likelihood of tumor!
You can thank researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France for these contradictory findings. Their Interphone Study results were published in the May 2010 International Journal of Epidemiology1.
And in a May 31, 2011 statement2, an IARC working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries decided to officially designate the radiation emitted by mobile phones as a “possible” carcinogen belonging in the same class as chloroform… diesel fuel… and substances that firefighters are exposed to.
The working group made its decision after considering hundreds of scientific articles. This included some recent in-press scientific articles resulting from the Interphone study.
In a previous release3, IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild said, “An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data from Interphone. However, observations at the highest level of cumulative call time and the changing patterns of mobile phone use … particularly in young people, mean that further investigation of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited.”
The recent decision to classify cell phones as a “possible” carcinogen appears to be a step in that direction.
What the Interphone study found
Funded in part by the mobile phone industry, the Interphone project collected data from 16 research centers in 13 countries outside the United States. Investigators interviewed 12,800 people, including nearly 7,500 tumor sufferers as well as healthy cell phone users.
They found that at the highest exposure levels—that is, daily cell phone use for more than half an hour a day over a 10-year period—there was a 40 percent increased risk of glioma brain tumors. With adjustments for statistical biases, that chance shot up to 80 percent!
Now, if half an hour a day doesn’t sound like heavy cell phone use to you, you’ve got lots of company.
Some critics of the study say the definition of “high” exposure really could represent average cell phone use. This means the study could underestimate actual cancer risk.
What’s more the study did not address cordless phone usage, which studies indicate may pose tumor risks as well.
Critics also note that children and young adults were not included in the study—despite evidence that exposure at a younger age may increase risk of brain tumors.
Lead investigator Professor Elisabeth Cardis said “because of concerns about the rapid increase in mobile phone use in young people… [the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology] CREAL is coordinating a new project, MobiKids, funded by the European Union, to investigate the risk of brain tumours from mobile phone use in childhood and adolescence.”
Interest in a cell phone/cancer connection
isn’t limited to European nations
One person who insists there’s a definite link between cell phone use and brain cancer is California businessman Alan Marks. In a recent CNN interview4, he said he’s convinced that his malignant brain tumor was tied to radiation exposure in the course of 20 years of cell phone use.
Marks is pressing lawmakers to require manufacturers to put warnings directly on their phones—not just in accompanying guides.
Although he continues to use a cell phone to conduct business, he now uses a headset or the speaker to communicate. And Marks is no lone crusader…
In a case called Murray v. Motorola—which involved Verizon, Motorola, AT&T and other cell phone providers—plaintiffs claimed that they or their loved ones suffered brain cancer and other illnesses because they used cell phones manufactured, sold or distributed by the defendants.
In November 2009, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and held that federal law does not preempt claims against the cell phone industry for injuries allegedly caused by cell phone low radio frequency (RF) radiation if those claims are based on:
1. Allegations of pre-1996 cellular phone usage (before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began applying radiation limits to cell phones), or
2. Use of cellular phones not in compliance with the FCC’s RF standard, or
3. State Consumer Protection Act claims involving marketing and advertising of cell phones relating to product safety.
This decision could keep the cell phone industry tangled in health-related litigation for years to come!
Another less serious health concern that has been tied to cell phone use is the development of skin rashes. Some cell phone users may get a skin rash because of the nickel in their cell phones.
People allergic to nickel may get a rash on their cheek or ear if they talk for extended periods on a cell phone containing nickel. They could also get a finger rash if they send lots of text messages!
I think I’m getting nostalgic for the horse and buggy days. . .
Let the facts speak for themselves
While the studies linking cell phones to brain cancer may still be inconclusive, some facts are beyond dispute:
1. The National Cancer Institute5 admits that cell phones release RF radiation that has been investigated for many years to determine its effects on humans.
2. A cell phone antenna produces its main source of RF energy. The antenna of newer cell phones is in the handset, which you typically hold against your head when talking.
3. The closer the antenna is to your head, the greater your exposure to RF energy. Conversely, the amount of RF energy you absorb decreases significantly as you increase your distance from the antenna.
The best option to address health concerns linked to cell phone usage is to use a hands-free device and possibly a cell phone cover to protect your skin.
Should you avoid cell phones altogether? That’s for you to decide. It seems to me the logical choice is moderate cell phone use.
But these devices seem to be a virtual addiction for many people. I can’t see walking down the street or on the beach or around a store chattering away into a phone. But I seem to be in the minority. Lost on most people is the Zen idea that’s it’s nice to simply be where you are.
Another option is to use your land line more often (they do still exist, you know). I prefer land lines because the voice quality and the reliability of the connection are both much higher. I’ve never quite got used to talking into a tarted-up walkie-talkie. But obviously the rest of the world has. I just hope they aren’t paying a terrible price for it in terms of cancer risk.
Want more carcinogens to worry about? I feel like the Wicked Witch teasing, “How about a little fire, Scarecrow?!” But what the heck. There’s something else around your house that may cause cancer. If you missed this news on Wednesday, scroll down and catch it now. . .