A recent large, long-term study published in the October 20, 2011 issue of the British Medical Journal has found no definitive link between cell phone use and an increased risk of brain cancer.
For the study – the longest and largest of its kind to date – scientists from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen looked at brain cancer rates among 360,000 people in that country. They looked at the rates of brain cancer in people who had used a cell phone for the past 17 years and compared them to the rates among those who did not use cell phones during this time period. In the end, investigators found no greater incidence of brain cancer among the cell phone users, the study’s authors report.
Why all the attention to cell phone use and its possible link to brain cancer? It all comes down to concerns about cell phone radiation. The type of radiation emitted by cell phones is known as non-ionizing radiation, meaning that it’s more similar to microwave oven radiation than it is to, say, the radiation emitted from X-rays. Experts say this type of radiation could potentially have the same effect on the brain as it does on food, “cooking” brain tissue and potentially causing symptoms of tissue damage such as increased cancer rates and memory loss.
But despite concerns about the effects of non-ionizing radiation on the brain in cell phone users, this study did not find evidence that it’s linked to higher brain cancer risk. Only a very slightly increased risk of glioma – a type of tumor that begins in the brain or spine and arises from glial or nerve cells – was found in the study subjects, and the risk was low enough to be statistically insignificant.
This finding refutes a study published in a June 2011 edition of the medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine that found a slightly increased risk of brain cancer among so-called “heavy cell phone users,” those who use their phones frequently or for a long period of time. At that time, investigators suggested using earpieces as a way to increase the distance of cell phones from the user’s brain and thus reduce his or her exposure to radiation from the phone. The Dutch study’s findings also appear to go against data that prompted a move by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May of this year to add cell phones to its list of items that are “possibly carcinogenic [cancer-causing] in humans.” This move was prompted by a review of peer-reviewed studies on cell phone use and brain cancer by 31 scientists in 14 countries that found a slightly increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancers with cell phone use. Substances that are also listed as "possible carcinogens" by WHO experts include car exhaust, lead, and chloroform.
Will this newest study put the question of the risk of brain cancer due to cell phone use to rest? Probably not. For one thing, cell phone technology is a fairly recent phenomena, and the long-term effects of any kind of technology are relatively unknown. Add to this the fact that people are becoming progressively more dependent on cell phones as the devices morph from simple telephones to the equivalent of mobile computing devices. Thus, as they grow more popular, cell phones are naturally going to be open to more scrutiny by healthcare professionals and policy makers.So stay tuned for ongoing updates on this debate on computers – or smart phones! – near you.
Published On: October 24, 2011