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More muddy water on cell phone use, kids' brain cancer risk
July 27th, 2011
05:20 PM ET

More muddy water on cell phone use, kids' brain cancer risk

A new study touts findings that kids who use cell phones are at no greater risk of brain cancer than non-users. But before you heave a sigh of relief and allow your kids unrestricted cell phone use, take a harder look at what the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, does and does not reveal.

Using data from a multi-center study - called CEFALO - of children and teens who have brain tumors, the study by Swiss researchers concludes that "regular users of mobile phones were not statistically significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with brain tumors compared to nonusers." The study also concludes that kids who started to use mobile phones at least five years ago were not at higher risk for brain cancer compared with kids who had never regularly used mobile phones.

This study surveyed 352 kids with brain tumors between 2004 and 2008, who the researchers concluded were "regular cell phone users." The kids lived in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. The catch? The researchers' definition of a "regular user" was one mobile phone call a week for at least six months. The researchers did not look at exposure time using call duration. Defining a "regular cell phone user" as once a week for at least six months is very low. According to a Pew Research Center study released in 2010, U.S. "teens typically make or receive five calls a day. White teens typically make or receive four calls a day, or around 120 calls a month, while black teens exchange seven calls a day or about 210 calls a month and Hispanic teens typically make and receive five calls a day or about 150 calls a month."

So they didn't find an increase between the "regular user" group and the control group. But based on their definition of a regular user, it’s unlikely that they would. Also because, as noted by the National Cancer Institute, "The interval between exposure to a carcinogen and the clinical onset of a tumor may be many years or decades.” That means if a 13-year-old starts using a cell phone on a daily basis in 2011, it will be years or decades before any damaging evidence is seen. Very few people believe talking on the phone once a week for six months will cause brain cancer. But for teens who are using their cell phones in a more typical fashion – at least five times per day- the answer is less clear.

“This new JNCI report represents an astonishing, disturbing and unwarranted conclusion,” according to Devra Davis, president of Environmental Health Trust, who also served as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She adds “interestingly, the researchers advocate, as we do, taking simple precautions including the use of a headset and speakerphone. But to conclude—as an editorial written by industry-associated scientists accompanying the article does—that that children face no risks from cell phones, does a profound disservice to the public.”

At the end of the study, the authors point out the study’s limitations. Interestingly, the authors note, "There might also be an inherent limitation regarding the level of exposure in our study." The researchers acknowledge that cell phone use is common in adolescents and that the common rate of use has increased since the study period.

The study authors say that since mobile phone usage among children and adolescents has increased over the years, they encourage a careful watch of the trend in the years ahead. They concede that additional retrospective studies based on memory (like their study) will not add clarification to the issue.


Filed under: Cancer • Cell Phones • Children's Health

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Health Online

    Speaking with a doctor is lot more easier .

    July 28, 2011 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • steeve-o

      On a cell phone.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Sid

    WHOA! a study found no significant correlation between cellphone use & brain cancer so believers attacked the methodology & said "well they still MAY get cancer in the future – we need to do MORE studies!"?!? that _IS_ news – if you fell into a worm hole & were spit out in 1997... is it Groundhog Day or something?

    July 28, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AGuest9

      Uncertainty means more research. More research means more papers. More papers means more grants. More grants means tenure. Tenure means more money to the University by way of more grants. Even more grants means a research center! A research center means a department chairpersonship...

      Wait! What was the question you asked me to research?

      July 28, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse |
  3. rob

    Another useless study. That's like saying I smoked one cigarette a week for six months, did not acquire lung cancer, and therefore smoking does not increase the risk for lung cancer. Extremely poorly designed study, maybe they need to educate themselves on 21st century sceintific study design. Idiots!

    July 28, 2011 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Olaf Big

      Don't be so smug. The conclusion from this study is limited, but there is a reason for this. Brain tumors are relatively rare, especially in children, so their statistical sample is small to start with. If you make it even smaller by trying to select only high-volume cell phone users, then your sample gets even smaller, and any difference or lack thereof becomes hard to prove. Not to mention that it is hard to measure accurately cell-phone usage in retroscpect. Not to mention that different cell phone models produce wildly different electromagnetic raidation levels.

      July 28, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  4. duh

    we'll never know the full truth because the lawyers of the industry and stock market all are much to large and profitable to let any "study" say it's bad. Could you imagine the impact? I work with RF (radars, communications, etc) and I avoid using a cell phone as much as possible.

    July 28, 2011 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. montyhp

    Latency period is "years or decades" after GENETIC DAMAGE. We have seen no consistent evidence of genetic damage (read consistent results from studies that are done properly). With real carcinogens, we can identify genetic damage shortly after exposure.

    It is funny how Devra Davis' name always ends up in these articles. She is viewed as lunatic fringe by serious scientists.

    July 28, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mitch

    I was going to make a post, but I am getting a call I must take. Excuse me. AAAaaaaaahhhhhhh. The horror. The horror.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. carolae

    Those "researchers" who are making these statements, need to make themselves guinea pigs. Unless you have absolute proof that using a cell phone ACTUALLY causes brain cancer, don't make this statement.....it is just speculation on their part. It's almost as absurd as saying if you give yourself an enema every other day for years, that you'll get rectal cancer. These people call themselves "scientists and researchers" and are getting the big bucks. We have enough going on in our country right now without these people making unsubstantiated comments like this. The proof is in the pudding sort to speak.....put up or shut up!

    July 28, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Chris

    The most disturbing part of this article is the fact that mainstream media is even printing it. What a bogus, biased study. This 'study' was partially funded by the telecommunications industry (as reported in a Canadian version of the story) – big surprise. Researchers examined stats over a 4 year period?! Even if you were to study smokers and cancer over a 10 year period, you wouldn't find a correlation. It's called 'latency period', people. Frankly, I find it almost criminal that the telecommunications industry has this much influence within our scientific community/media. Furthermore, to suggest that cell phone use is safe for children based on this type of 'study' is even worse.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kurt

    why not just compare brain tumer %'s from kids today who use cell phones vs kids from 20 years ago

    July 28, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. What it Means ??

    A 1:1 Link ? Not Definitively Proven (Yet?). (Have I used a cell for years = Yes; Did I "grow" a brain tumor – Yes) There are some unexplained oddities in other studies which warrant a continued look. The heat and RF signal penetrant depth into the skull and brain tissues has been researched and mapped via multiple credible venues {and I'll return to this post shen I pull the papers, which are all public domain). Those researchers do not "sell" it on 1:1 cancer terms, but presently as a caution. More study has to be done to say what it triggers when you "cook" sections of your brain. Maybe some of us are just unlucky twherein the long-term 'heat' and frequency exposure leads to the slight DNA chromosomal marker pair deletions that are a common to many caner types.

    July 28, 2011 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Rubbish

    Cell phone use is no more capable of casuing cancer than smoking, breathing in substances like abestos and other fiber-based insulators, or exposure to cosmic rays like UVA and / or UVB. Take your tinfoil hats off, people

    July 28, 2011 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. John

    Check your watch – do you believe it ? In 1918 Einstein received the Nobel Prize for essentially establishing the truth of Quantum Theory. (Hence the watch remark – it works because of the truth of quantum theory) The quanta from a cell phone are too low in energy to affect any molecule in your brain. One quantum or a zillion quanta still will have no effect. Bob Parks has been trying to throw a stone across the Potomac but he can get a stone only half way. Maybe he should throw a zillion stones !

    July 28, 2011 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply

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