A definitive link between regular cell phone use and brain tumors hasn’t been found, but few experts are ready to dismiss the possibility. Most recommend circumspect use of the devices, an ergonomic approach to managing risk, while the search for answers continues. The latest study, from Denmark, also found no link, but hastens to point out that conclusions about risk would be premature.
The underlying question is whether the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices damages the brain, causing cancers or benign tumors like acoustic neuromas.
Researchers at the Danish Cancer Society found no link in a study they reported recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. They looked at the rates of brain tumors among 20- to 79-year-olds from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden and found that trends in cancer rates had not altered from the period before mobiles were introduced.
The study was based on 59,684 brain tumor cases diagnosed over 30 years from 1974 to 2003 among 16 million adults.
At first glance, the findings appear to suggest that cell phones are safe and circumspection is unnecessary, but in a December article about the study lead researcher, Isabelle Deltour suggests it is too soon to celebrate. She said the lack of a detectable increase in tumor rates up to 2003 may suggest that the time it takes for cancer to develop from mobile phone use is longer than 10 years of exposure or that the number of tumors it promotes is too small to be detected.
The head of a prominent cancer research institute in the United States isn’t waiting for a conclusive link to be made. In July 2008, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman advised some his faculty and staff at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute to limit use of the devices because of the possible risk of cancer. The potential risk is highest to children, he said, and to people who already have the disease.
He pointed out in the memo to his department that the ubiquitous use of cell phones is so recent that the hard-and-fast data on health risks – of the kind now abundant for tobacco and asbestos risks, for instance – isn’t yet available. Citing scores of studies that don’t rule out the possibility of health dangers, he recommends that exposure should be limited while research continues.
And in a September 2009 news release, the Environmental Working Group advised circumspect use of the devices. Reviewing the research into a possible link, the Washington DC-based non-profit group described the collective findings as “provocative and troubling,” and added that much more research is essential. In the meantime, advised EWG, consumers should choose low-emission phone models. The group publishes on its website a ranking-by-emissions of some 1200 cell phones. The two lowest radiation emitters were the Samsung Impression and the Motorola RAZR V8. Because the rankings revealed a wide variety of radiation emissions, which it measures as the specific absorption rate (SAR), the organization has called for these levels to be publicized at the point of sale.
Sources: Journal of the National Cancer Institute; BBC; University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; Environmental Working Group