Study: No Added Cancer Risk for Kids and Teens from Cell Phones

by Jordan Richardson on July 28, 2011

There have been countless studies pertaining to cell phones and cancer, many of which I’ve explored in my tenure here at The Telecom Blog. The nature of the science on the subject doesn’t help a confused public looking for an easy answer, as there is very often no such thing in the world of research.

Just last month, the World Health Organization revealed that it’s possible for cell phone use to be linked with cancer. This is because radio frequency electromagnetic fields have been labelled as “possibly carcinogenic in nature” along with asbestos, benzene, gasoline, and so on. This was based on mountains of existing research, mind you; the WHO didn’t conduct any new research.

So now a study (PDF) from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland, have revealed that cell phone use poses no additional cancer risk for children and teens. Researchers collected data from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, examining medical records of 352 children aged seven to 19 who were diagnosed with brain tumours between 2004 and 2008.

256 patients, or 75.3 percent, reported speaking on a mobile phone more than 20 times prior to diagnosis. 466 control subjects, or 72.1 percent, said the same. A slightly higher proportion of patients versus control subjects reported regular cell phone usage, but researchers didn’t consider the differences significant.

A subset of study participants revealed that brain tumour risk was not related to cell phone use. Researchers used data from cell phone companies, also learning that there was no increased risk of tumours in brain areas receiving the highest amount of “carcinogenic” exposure.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute will publish the research and notes that, because the study was not a randomized control trial, it can only demonstrate correlation. In other words, it can’t speak to causation and, as such, can’t speak to ruling out a definitive link between cell phone usage and cancer. At the same time, researchers say that it doesn’t support a causal relationship between cell phones and cancer.

“[This study] provides quite some evidence that use of less than five years does not increase the chance of a brain tumour, but naturally we don’t have a lot of long-term users,” researcher Martin Roosli said.

It’s doubtful that this research will do anything to bolster the cases of either side in this debate. Those who wish to believe there’s a link between cell phones and cancer will always have research to cherrypick, while those who don’t believe in a link can doubtlessly do the same. The best that anyone can say about the issue is that it is unsettled – for now.

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