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Kids’ Study Finds No Cell Phone-Cancer Link

July 29, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Good news for anyone with kids (and for the kids themselves): All those hours they spend with cell phones stuck to their ears apparently do not increase their risk of brain cancer.

A study published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no statistically significant increased risk.

Previous research on adults has generally found no link between mobile-phone use and brain cancer, though the topic remains controversial. The World Health Organization (WHO) caused a stir back in May when it declared the electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” but the WHO declares lots of things possibly carcinogenic, including coffee and pickles. Essentially, the classification just means “we haven’t been able to rule it out.”

Nor does the new study rule out the possibility that mobile phones might increase the brain cancer risk of children and adolescents. But it does provide some reassurance.

The researchers looked at the medical records of children ages 7 through 19 who had brain tumors and interviewed them about their mobile-phone usage. They also consulted phone-use records from mobile network providers. The study, conducted from 2004 through 2008, included participants from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland.

It found that 194 of 352 brain cancer patients (55 percent) and 329 of 646 control subjects (51 percent) reported regular mobile-phone usage—not a statistically significant difference. No increased risk of tumors was found for brain areas receiving the highest amount of electromagnetic radiation exposure.

The study’s conclusion: “Because we did not find a clear exposure-response relationship in most of these analyses, the available evidence does not support a causal association between the use of mobile phones and brain tumors.”

An accompanying editorial noted that U.S. rates of brain cancer among both the population in general and children and teenagers in particular have not changed over the past 20 years despite a huge increase in the use of cell phones.

However, the authors of both the study and the editorial did urge continued research, both because of some questions about the study and because cell phones haven’t been around long enough to assess their long-term effects.  The editorial also suggested that those who still had concerns should use earpieces or the phone’s speaker function.

Good luck getting kids to do that.

Reuters interviewed corresponding author Martin Röösli, PhD, of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland. The interviewer asked about the phone rules in the researcher’s own household. Dr. Röösli replied:

Our study does not provide strong evidence of a relation, so why should I forbid my children from using cell phones?

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