Heavy mobile use linked to brain cancer

A new peer-reviewed study has found evidence that intensive mobile phone use could put you at risk of developing certain types of brain cancer – though regular users appear to be safe.

The study was conducted by researchers from Bordeaux University and published in the peer-reviewed Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, and aimed to analyse the association between mobile phone exposure and primary central nervous system tumours in adults.

In order to explore the association, researchers identified 447 adults who were diagnosed with the most common types of brain tumour (gliomas and meningiomas) between 2004 and 2006 (the case group).

Researchers then matched them with 892 people who hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer (the control group) and both groups were then interviewed on their use of mobile phones.

The researchers found no association between regular mobile phone use and risk of the brain tumour (phoning at least once a week for six months or more).

However, it did find an increased risk of gliomas with intensive mobile phone use – in subjects with the highest cumulative lifetime call duration (above 896 hours – or more than 15 hours per month).

The average cumulative lifetime duration of calls was 115 hours, and average calling time 2.7 hours per month.

“The carcinogenic effect of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in humans remains controversial. However, it has been suggested that they could be involved in the aetiology of some types of brain tumours,” the researchers said.

“These additional data support previous findings concerning a possible association between heavy mobile phone use and brain tumours.”

Up to date?

The UK National Health Service (NHS) weighed in on the report, acknowledging its findings, but also attempting to put them into context.

The NHS said that the study is likely out of date and of questionable value in today’s context.

It highlighted that:

  • Not many people actually used their mobiles for above 896 hours – only 37 cases and 31 controls of the study group;
  • Mobile use has become much more widespread than the 50% of adults identified as “regular users” in the study;
  • Mobile phone use by the middle aged French adults 8-10 years ago is unlikely to reflect use today;
  • The study didn’t consider new technologies and habits, such as text messaging and smartphones (launched in 2007) which make use of 3G and Wi-Fi signals;
  • There may still be other factors involved in the cancer-relationship, meaning it is difficult to prove cause and effect.

“Arguably, the study only provides information about mobile phone use from a decade ago and contributes little in the way of conclusive answers about the current picture,” the NHS said.

“This may be of questionable value with such rapidly evolving technology.”

A previous study by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme found that exposure to radiation from mobile phones and base stations will not increase the risk of developing cancer.

However, the group, too, conceded that the short time that mobile phone use has been widespread, no studies have been properly able to investigate risk in relation to long-term use.

The NHS and MTHR have both pointed to the COSMOS cohort study currently being implemented in Europe to investigate the long-term impact of mobile phone use.

The COSMOS study aims to carry out long term health monitoring of a large group of people so that we can identify if there are any health issues linked to long term mobile phone use.

It has been identified as a priority by research agencies worldwide, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), having already recruited 290,000 participants across five European countries including the UK.

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Heavy mobile use linked to brain cancer