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Brain tumours may be linked to mobile phone use

International group studies evidence on cancer risk

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Scientists meeting internationally have concluded that mobile phones may be carcinogenic to humans.

Some 30 scientists from 14 countries met in France to discuss the evidence surrounding radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) (including those caused by mobile phones) as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The findings have today been published in The Lancet Oncology.  

Human exposures to RF-EMF (frequency range 30 kHz–300 GHz) can occur from use of personal devices including: mobile telephones, cordless phones, Bluetooth, and amateur radios, from occupational sources (such as high-frequency dielectric and induction heaters, and high-powered pulsed radars), and from environmental sources such as mobile-phone base stations, broadcast antennas, and medical applications.

The general population receives the highest exposure from transmitters close to the body, such as mobile telephones. The authors note in their summary that third-generation (3G) mobile phones emit about 100 times less RF energy than global system for mobile communications (GSM) handsets, when signals are strong. They also highlight that the average output power of Bluetooth wireless hands-free kits is estimated to be around 100 times lower than that of mobile phones.

The conclusion of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group that RF-EMF is possibly carcinogenic to humans is based on several studies.

In the INTERPHONE study (published in 2010), researchers found that the top 10% of mobile phone users had a 40% increased risk of glioma (a brain tumour) compared with never-users.

The working group also reviewed a combined analysis of Swedish studies (published in 2011) in which participants who had used a mobile phone for more than 1 year had a 1.3 times (or 30%) increased risk of gliomas, when compared with never users.

However, a Danish study that analysed cancer rates and mobile phone subscription from 1982 to 1995 found no increased risk of glioma or other brain tumours among mobile phone users, nor did a number of earlier and smaller case control studies.

This and other evidence led to the findings of the working group not being agreed by all its members and for some members to deem the evidence in humans as ‘inadequate’.

Overall, the authors conclude: “In view of the limited evidence in humans and in experimental animals, the Working Group classified RF-EMF as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. This evaluation was supported by a large majority of Working Group members.”

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