April 23, 2008

Callbacks on the Cell Phone Cancer Story

The long running debate over whether cell phones cause cancer is heating up again.

The latest round of press came after the release of two studies suggesting a link between cell phone use and cancer, and one that denies such a link altogether.

Australia’s Dr. Vini Khurana made waves recently with research finding that using cell phones for more than 10 years could more than double the risk of developing malignant brain tumors.

But what hit the headlines was Khurana’s contention that cell phones could present more of a risk to public health than smoking or asbestos.

Based on a 15-month review, Khurana found increased reports of malignant brain tumors associated with heavy cell phone use, with tumors showing up near the phone user’s preferred ear for making calls.

Khurana suggested that the phones may heat up the brain, and that headset phones may “convert the user’s head into an effective, potentially self-harming antenna,” Australia’s The Age reported.

Dana Blankenhorn, who writes about health for ZDNet, wrote that he was initially skeptical, but Khurana’s report impressed him.

“Having covered this area for many years now, I can tell you that this cell phone-brain cancer scare comes up every few years, and in the past it has always been dismissed,” Blankenhorn wrote. “But even if the risk is minimal, why is the industry taking it?”

Meanwhile, a Danish study found no relation between cell phones and brain cancer.

Dr. Christoffer Johansen, of the Danish Cancer Society, found 427 people with brain cancer and 822 healthy people and questioned them about how often they used their cell phones.

His team then checked the respondents’ answers against their phone records to gauge the accuracy of their replies.

They found no correlation between frequency of calls or length of use and the presence of brain tumors, nor did they find any relation between the side of the head used for phone calls and the area in which tumors were found, according to an article in Pakistan’s International News Network.

In the New Republic, Ezekiel J. Emanuel cast doubt on a link between cell phones and brain cancer, saying, “Rates of brain cancer have remained remarkably steady despite the advent of the cell phone in 1984.”

But, even if the brain cancer link is disproven, there are other dangers to worry about.

In another study, an Israeli scientist found evidence for a link between cell phones and tumors of the salivary glands.

The study, by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki of the University of Tel Aviv and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that people who used a cell phone heavily were 50 percent more likely to develop a benign or malignant tumor in the main salivary gland than people who didn’t use cell phones.

“Unlike people in other countries, Israelis were quick to adopt cell phone technology and have continued to be exceptionally heavy users,” Sadetzki was quoted in TopCancerNews.com. “This unique population has given us an indication that cell phone use is associated with cancer.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Brain cancer fears over heavy mobile phone use”
The Age (Australia), March 31, 2008

“Cell Phones Won’t Raise Brain Tumor Risk”
International News Network (Pakistan), April 12, 2008

“Link between cell phone usage and the development of tumors”
TopCancerNews, April 12, 2008

“Who kicked up the cell phone scare?”
ZDNet, April 1, 2008

“Will Your Cell Phone Kill You?”
The New Republic, April 9, 2008

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