Playing telephone with cancer
Research is mounting that long-term cell phone usage is associated with cancer, but doubts remain.
Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 05:14 PM
Photo: Associated Press
Evidence that cell phone usage is associated with cancer is mounting, according to a recent CNN news article.
Last summer, U.S. cancer expert Dr. Ronald Herberman warned that children should only use mobile phones in emergencies and that adults should try to keep cell phones away from their heads because early unpublished data had found an increased risk of brain cancer from using cell phones.
"We shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” Herberman told the London Daily Telegraph.
But now, amidst increasingly reliable research linking cell phone usage to cancer, Herberman believes there is even “more indication for concern, particularly amongst children.”
He’s not the only one.
By the end of the year, the World Health Organization is expected to release a decade-long investigation that shows a “significantly increased risk” of some brain tumors “related to use of mobile phones for a period of 10 years or more,” according to an October news article by the Telegraph.
Though some studies have not uncovered a link between cancer and cell phone use, one study that evaluated 23 other case-controlled studies found that the studies which used more scientifically rigorous methodologies tended to find evidence that cell phone usage and tumors are linked more often than the less rigorous studies.
These more rigorous methods included making sure that investigators did not know which participants had tumors when they conducted the interviews as well as not accepting industry funding.
In comparison, studies that had received industry funding tended to not find a link between cell phone usage and cancer.
In fact, the poorer-quality studies actually found that cell phones could prevent tumors, though the researchers were unable to figure out the reason why.
But even the more rigorous studies aren’t entirely without fault, adding more confusion to an already fuzzy debate.
For example, existing research currently relies on comparing the cell phone use of people who already have cancer with those who don’t. The problem with that method is that people who have tumors may tend to exaggerate or mix up information about their cell phone usage.
In addition, a majority of the so-called “strongest” studies all came from one researcher, oncologist Dr. Lennart Hardell in Sweden.
And, to sow even more doubt onto the issue, nobody knows why cell phones would induce tumors, but there are theories.
Meanwhile, as researchers continue to duke it out over the latest findings, consumers can take a few easy steps to minimize their risk without having to change their lives.
Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, advised that people should try to use a headset and keep cell phones away from their bodies as much as possible.
In addition, consumers due for a cell phone upgrade can check out the Environmental Working Group’s guide to limiting exposure to cell phone radiation, which includes a list of 10 phones with the lowest radiation levels. The site also allows users to look up their own phones radiation levels.
But the most important action consumers can take is to remain calm, said Dr. William Curry, a neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, who added, "I don't think this study would change how I counsel my patients. There's not enough data to say that you should be worried."