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There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the use of cell phones and the development of brain tumors. Experts such as Sanjay Gupta, M.D. have raised concerns over using cell phones.
The discussion was initiated after the World Health Organization recently declared that radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same "carcinogenic hazard" category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform. The WHO team was comprised of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Prior to its announcement recently, WHO had assured consumers that no adverse health effects had been established.
The two types of brain tumors which the WHO states patients may be at increased risk for are gliomas and acoustic neuromas. Gliobastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive form of glioma, accounts for about 60 percent of the 17,000 primary brain tumors diagnosed in the U.S. Recently, several celebrities have been diagnosed with GBM, which include Senator Edward Kennedy, former baseball player Gary Carter, and golfer Seve Ballesteros (olidodendroglioma). Despite what seems like an epidemic of brain tumors, the age-adjusted GBM death rate in the US is only 4.3 per 100,000 people per year.
Before throwing away our cell phones and resorting to actually speaking to people face-to-face (perish the thought), let’s consider the following facts:
Cell phones emit radiofrequency (RF) energy (AKA radio waves)
RF energy is a form of electromagnetic radiation (ER). ER can be divided into ionizing (high-frequency) and non-ionizing (low-frequency).
RF energy is a type of non-ionizing ER. Ionizing radiation is used by radiation oncologists to treat cancer. To date, there is no conclusive evidence that non-ionizing radiation emitted by cell phones is associated with cancer risk. In addition, the amount of RF energy produced by cell phones is too low to cause significant tissue heating or an increase in body temperature.
A cell phone's main source of RF energy is produced through its antenna. The closer the antenna is to the head, the greater a person's expected exposure to RF energy. The amount of RF energy absorbed by a person decreases with increasing distance between the antenna and the user.
What are the reported data concerning RF energy from cell phones and brain tumor risk?
The rates of brain tumors have not significantly increased over the past several decades despite the explosion of the use of cell phones.
Incident data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), showed no increase in the age-adjusted incidence of brain and other nervous system cancers between 1987 and 2007, despite the dramatic increase in the use of cell phones.
The most significant study of long-term use is the 13-country Interphone study, which reviewed multiple case-control studies and was published online on May 17, 2010 in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The researchers reported that, overall, cell phone users have no increased risk for two of the most common types of brain tumor. In addition, they found no evidence of increasing risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call time, or years since beginning cell phone use.
The reason, however, there is increased concern over cell phone use and brain tumors is based on a study published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Seung-Kwon Myung and colleagues. "Mobile phone use of 10 years or longer was associated with a risk of tumors in 13 studies. The authors concluded that risk of brain tumors rises by 18 percent with prolonged cell phone use, with a 95 percent probability that the true risk actually falls between 4 percent and 34 percent.
How do we decipher the data?
Let’s review the data assuming that the 18 percent elevated mortality figure is accurate. As stated above, within the US, the death rate for GBM is 4.3 cases per 100,000 people per year. An increase of 18 percent would increase the death rate from GBM to 5.1 cases per 100,000 people per year. Assuming that there are 150 million chronic cell phone users in the U.S., there would be an additional 1,200 additional deaths every year. While this is 1,200 cases too many, this is a relatively small number considering 150 million people are using cell phones. This number pales in comparison when considering the number of Americans who die due to lack of screening for colon, breast, and prostate cancer. Most medical experts would consider smoking, obesity, and poor dietary habits a much bigger issue that cell phone use.
However, it's always better to be cautious. Stay safe by following these recommendations regarding the use of cell phones:
- Use land lines instead of cell phone when possible.
- Consider texting instead of calling when possible.
- Hold cell phone away from your body when initially making calls.
- Minimize use of cell phones if you have poor reception.
- Consider use of head set if you use your cell phone a lot.