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May 28th, 2008
12:09 PM ET

Cancer and cell phones

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Last night, I was part of a fascinating discussion on "Larry King Live" about cell phones and their health risks. (watch) To be clear, most of the established scientific community thinks there is no reason for concern. There were, however, some strong voices on each side of the issue, including neurosurgeon Vini Khurana from Australia. He is convinced, after looking at hundreds of studies, that not only do cell phones cause health problems such as brain tumors, but also they will eventually be considered a bigger health risk than asbestos and even cigarettes.

Wow.

Now, I expected a staunch defense from the American Cancer Society, but instead I heard a more tepid response from Dr. Michael Thun. His bottom-line conclusion is that the studies that currently exist don't show any reason for concern – but – the studies aren't definitive in showing that they are safe either. Not exactly reassuring.

Over the last year, I have reviewed nearly a hundred studies on this topic, including the 19 large epidemiological studies. I urge you to do the same and read carefully to see what you think. Here is an example from a Swedish paper showing no increased risk of a brain tumor, known as acoustic neuroma. (see study) As you read the paper, you will find they defined a "regular" cell phone user as someone who uses a cell phone once per week during six months or more. I don't know about you, but everyone I know uses his or her cell phones much more frequently than that. So, just how reliable are some of these studies?

Furthermore, many of the studies published since 2000 followed patients only three years on average. And, even a Danish study that did have longer-term follow-up excluded anyone under the age of 18. So, what about children who will presumably be using these phones for the rest of their lives?

Mobile devices give off non-ionizing radiation radio frequency. This is different from the ionizing radiation of an X-ray, which everyone agrees can be harmful in large doses. The recommendation by the two neurosurgeons on the panel yesterday – Khurana and Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles – wear a wired ear piece. Even Bluetooth devices give off some radiation, although at lower doses. Don't carry your cell phone in your pocket; instead put it in a holster that meets industry standards.

What do you think? As Larry reminded us last night, it took a long time to develop a cause-and-effect relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer. Nowadays, everyone knows it exists. Is the same thing happening with cell phones? (more from Dr. Gupta on cell phones and cancer)

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.