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Cell Phones And Brain Cancer: Time To Protect Ourselves

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by Dr Gerard Lalande



In my last column on June 17, I highlighted the essential concerns related to the possible association between brain cancer and cell phone use.


To recap briefly: brain cancer (glioma) is a rare cancer, affecting mainly older people around 65 years of age and which may take 25 years or more to evolve as full-blown cancer. Current "evidence" cited by medical societies stresses that studies have so far not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain and that more research is needed.


Four trials often included in the current quoted "evidence" are reviewed below, with account taken of their methodological flaws or limitations:


1. The Hardell study in 2001 was the first to disclose a positive association between brain cancer and wireless devices. Among 233 patients aged 20-80 years with a brain tumour, a higher tumour risk was found among those who intensively used a cell phone and the malignant growth was detected on the side where the hand-held phone was placed.


2. The "Interphone" was a landmark European trial that assessed 2,708 cases of gliomas. The study was often reported in the lay press as a "negative trial" (not endorsing the potential risk of RF-EMF exposure) because the conclusion stated that overall - when pooling all cell phone users whatever their usage rate - no increase in brain tumour risk was observed with mobile phones. Despite many flaws that led to a marked underestimation of the risk, there was indeed a reported increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels of more than 1,640 hours of cumulative phone usage. As a result, many scientists actually consider the Interphone study as a positive one, which means RF emissions are indeed linked to brain cancer. Following Hardell and Interphone, the WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer classified in 2011 radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Unfortunately and to the dismay of the public, official agencies and mainstream media did not spread this breakthrough information.


3. In 2011, a large Danish study included 10,729 brain tumour cases and concluded that there were no increased risks of brain tumours with mobile phone use, consequently supporting the "lack of evidence" finding. However, this study, which was sponsored by phone companies, had massive flaws, not least a grossly inaccurate usage rate among users and non-users. Many scientists stated that the outcome was totally unreliable and the trial must be disregarded.


4. In 2014, a well-conducted French study on 450 brain tumour cases again confirmed that a risk of brain tumour was indeed associated with heavy phone usage.


In conclusion, cell phone emissions, with repeated and frequent use, have been shown to consistently increase the risk of brain tumours, especially malignant ones. The magnitude of this health impact cannot be accurately assessed at the moment because the follow up in most studies has been shorter than the cancer's latency period.


Importantly, heavy phone usage, defined as beyond 1,640 hours of cumulative phone calls, appears the most important risk factor and is not influenced by the number of years needed to reach this carcinogenic threshold. In other words, using a cell phone for 30 minutes per day for 9 years or 10 minutes per day for 27 years may carry the same heightened tumour risk. Without preventive measures, many people, especially teens and younger adults, are likely to reach this threshold around 50 years of age when natural brain tumour occurrence starts to rise.


It is thus worth looking at the history of tobacco smoking and its related deadly health consequences; Lung cancer was a rare cancer before tobacco was massively introduced in the early 1900s. The risk of lung cancer associated with smoking was suggested as early as 1950 and clearly established in 1976, yet it took 27 more years - until the WHO Helsinki conference in 2003 - for most countries to endorse significant measures to control smoking.


Needless to say, cell phones represent a major technological advance in communication and appropriate cell phone usage is likely to induce no or minimal health hazard.


Prevention is actually quite simple and includes the following:


1. not to provide cell phone to children (due to brain development phase);


2. strictly enforce the use of headsets for teenagers and adults alike when making a call;


3. use the messaging function as a preference and the call function in a judicious manner making only valuable calls of short duration;


4. keep away the cell phone from the head and as much as possible from other parts of the body; and


5. switch off the phone whenever appropriate.


Taking account of the tobacco experience, it is not wise waiting for an official announcement to start protecting ourselves and others from the harmful effects of cell phone emissions.




Dr Gerard Lalande is managing director of CEO-Health, which provides medical referrals for expatriates and customised executive medical check-ups in Thailand. He can be contacted at gerard.lalande@ceo-health.com.




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I would have thought, with the increased use of devices in the hand, rather than against the ear; there would be a decrease in this type of cancer.

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