Tuesday, 25 October 2011 00:15

Mobile phones don't cause cancer; yes they do; no they don't


A long-term study of Danish mobile phone use has unequivocally determined that there is no connection between mobile phone use and various cancers of the brain.  The nay-sayers have rushed to contradict the findings.

Allow me to present the primary research papers and also to attempt to navigate amongst them.

Dated 20 October 2011, the latest Danish study seeks to investigate any connection between extended mobile phone use and a variety of tumours in proximity to the ear.  According to the abstract "Frei and colleagues found no evidence that the risk of brain tumours was raised in 358,403 Danish mobile phone subscribers.  This was also true when the cohort was restricted to people who had been subscribing for more than 10 years, when gliomas and meningiomas were analysed separately, and when tumours in the anatomical region closest to the handset were analysed."

The study benefitted from two major methodological advantages - firstly that computerised data could be followed in the Health Department records (unlike USA, Denmark has a universal, government sponsored health system), avoiding any need to contact individuals and secondly that digitised subscriber data from the telcos could easily be cross-matched to glean long-term usage trends.

The next paper of interest was released on 31 May 2011.

The next paper of interest was released on 31 May 2011.  This, from the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer takes an each-way bet.  Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that "the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk."

"Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings," said IARC Director Christopher Wild, "it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting.

Further, in response to the Danish paper, the IARC responded on 21 October, noting that "The Danish cohort study has no information on amount of mobile phone use and consequently cannot investigate risk in the subgroup of heaviest users. Therefore it confirms the overall Interphone findings of no association, but with reduced potential for bias. It does, however, leave open the possibility that there is a small increase in heavy users. All studies have in common that risk only becoming apparent after 15-20 years of use could not be investigated. "

Next, hot on the heels of the IARC response, we have a very critical release from the Environmental Health Trust.

Next, hot on the heels of the IARC response, we have a very critical release from the Environmental Health Trust who challenge the Danish findings, mainly on the way in which the research was designed.  Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, cancer epidemiologist and President of Environmental Health Trust, commented: "From the way it was set up originally, this deeply flawed study was designed to fail to find an increased risk of brain tumors tied with cellphone use. In order for any study of a relatively rare disease like brain tumors to find a change in risk, millions must be followed for decades. By extending an earlier analysis on the same group of cellphone users this new report provides unsurprising, biased and misleading conclusions. It uses no direct information on cell phone use, fails to consider recent and rapidly changing nature of and exposure to microwave radiation from cellphones, cordless phones and other growing sources, and excludes those who would have been the heaviest users'”namely more than 300,000 business people in the 1990s who are known to have used phones four times as much as those in this study."

Finally to counter an argument that seems mostly to turn on semantics, we should hear from Physicist Bernard Leikind who wrote a detailed rebuttal to address all possible methods by which mobile phone radiation might cause cancer.

Essentially there is no method that can be shown to work.  In describing the endless stream of nay-sayers, Leikind asks, "Why aren't these researchers proclaiming the brilliant discovery that cell phones protect against brain cancer? Why do they believe that concern is justified? They are confident that there is no possible way for cell phones to reduce the risk of brain cancer, but they suspect that the physicists might be wrong that there is no mechanism.

"Physicists have solved the problem of microwave radiation and absorption. We know exactly what happens to the radiation, and there is no fuzzy area about it that we do not understand. The epidemiologists hear instead that physicists do not know of a mechanism by which the radiation might cause cancer.

So, until the epidemiologists can offer a workable mechanism whereby mobile phone radiation can actually create the conditions for cancer to occur, they are stuck with Leiland's conclusions.



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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.



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