Of the 7 billion people living on the planet, 6 billion of those people have cell phones. With the technology boom of recent years, it is just a matter of time before nearly everyone has access to the device. Most people with cell phones use them every day as a means of communication and many people have decided to drop their landline phones simply because they would rather just use their cell phones.
Although cell phones are a highly efficient means of communication, it appears as though using them may come at a cost. In a recent study published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography, it appears as though cell phone usage significantly increases your risk of developing a brain tumor. And not just any brain tumor, a specific type called “glioma” which can be malignant and is linked to microwaves from cordless phones.
Long Term Cell Phone Use Linked to Brain Tumors (Glioma)
The more you use your phone, the greater your risk of developing a brain tumor appears to be. Does this mean that people are going to stop using their phones? Probably not, but it does mean that cell phone developers may need to improve their technology to make phones safer. In years past, it was thought that the radiation from cell phones wouldn’t detrimentally affect the brain – researchers concluded that the radiation was too low to pose any real risk.
A new study conducted in Sweden found that brain tumor rates were approximately 3 times greater among individuals who spoke on cellular phones (or cordless phones) after more than 25 years. The average increased risk of developing a brain tumor was suggested to be approximately 33%. They also concluded that individuals that had used a phone for over a decade (i.e. 10 years) doubled their risk for developing a brain tumor.
Previously, the “The International Interphone Study” was the largest study to ever investigate whether cell phones increased risk of brain tumors. Unfortunately, this study was funded directly by telecommunication companies and some would argue that the findings were likely subject to bias. This study was conducted across 13 countries and published results suggested that cell phone usage didn’t increase risk of developing brain tumors.
However, the study was relatively flawed in that it only took into account those who used cell phones over a short-term. This newer Swedish study was lead by cancer specialist Dr. Lennart Hardell and took into account long-term cell phone usage. No financial backing was received from the telecommunications industry. The newer study contradicts, (and some would argue supplants) the findings of the International Interphone Study.
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20483835/
- Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3226506/
The Swedish Study: University Hospital in Örebro (2014)
Researchers from the University Hospital in Örebro, Sweden were responsible for carrying out the study. The study was funded by an independent cancer research organization unlike previous studies that were funded by telecommunication providers. The study was considered “case-control” in that its goal was to determine whether there were any links between mobile phone usage and developing “glioma,” a malignant type of brain tumor.
Set-up: Researchers contacted all adults between the ages of 20 and 80 that had been diagnosed with a brain tumor between the years 1997 and 2003 in central Sweden. They also investigated all cases throughout the country of Sweden among individuals ages 18 to 75 from the year 2007 through 2009.
Participants: A total of 1,498 individuals were recruited by the researchers to participate in the study. This sample included 879 males and 619 females and most had been diagnosed with glioma. They then utilized the Swedish Population Registry to match each specific case by age and gender at random. There were a total of 3,530 random matches which served as the “control group.”
Questionnaires: A questionnaire was delivered to all individuals diagnosed with glioma as well as the control group. This questionnaire was devised to gather data regarding mobile and cordless phone exposure. In other words, researchers wanted to know how frequently and over what time span people had been using their cordless phones.
- Type of mobile phone:
- First (1G) gen
- Second (2G) gen
- Third (3G) gen
- Questions included:
- Preferred ear when talking
- Number of years using a mobile phone
- Average daily usage
- Potential confounds considered:
- Work history
- Chemical exposure
- Smoking habits
- X-ray exposure to head/neck
- Hereditary cancer traits
Note: If researchers had a difficult time interpreting results of a particular questionnaire, they conducted a follow-up interview over the phone. Additionally the researchers also took into account the socioeconomic status of the patients by performing statistical analyses.
Results of the study: The study established a link between using mobile phones and developing glioma. The longer the span over which a person used their cell phone, the greater their risk of glioma; this also applied to those who use cordless phones. Additionally the greater the number of hours you use your cell phone, the greater your risk.
- Any mobile phone increased glioma (brain tumor) risk by a third (33%)
- Using 2G phones for 15 to 20 years doubles risk (2x) of glioma
- 3G phones for 5 to 10 years quadrupled the risk (4x) of glioma
- This was based on 12 cases and 14 controls
- Cordless phones increase risk significantly when used over 15 years
- This was based on 50 cases and 109 controls
- For every 100 hours of usage, odds of glioma significantly increase
- For each year of usage, odds of glioma also significantly increase
- Using a mobile phone prior to the age of 20 increases odds of glioma more than those who use phones at older ages
Interpretation of results: Previous research had suggested that gliomas are “caused by RF-EMF” exposure from mobile phones. Researchers went on to say that this exposure should be regarded as carcinogenic and that current guidelines for cell phones need to be revised. This new study confirms findings of several older studies and further supports the idea of revising cell phone guidelines and/or creating devices with less RF-EMF radiation.
Thus far there have been only 11 studies investigating potential links between cell phone usage and brain tumors. If data is pooled from multiple studies (including this newer one), researchers would agree that “long-term cell phone usage can approximately double the risk of developing a glioma or acoustic neuroma in the more exposed brain hemisphere.” In other words, whichever side of your head you typically hold your phone, this is where you’d be more likely to develop the tumor.
Authors of the study concluded that the: “Current standard of exposure to microwave during mobile phone use is NOT safe for long-term exposure and needs to be revised.”
What should you think about the results?
Firstly, it is important to get a better understanding of how frequently people are diagnosed with glioma. Among Europeans, glioma was diagnosed at a rate of 5 out of 100,000 people between 1995 and 2002 – this is equivalent to (.005%). If cell phones tripled the rate at which people were diagnosed with glioma, the odds of developing this type of tumor would only increase to approximately ~16 out of 100,000 or (.016%).
It is also important to realize that cell phone usage increased significantly throughout the world between the years 2000 and 2010. Despite this massive growth in the number of cell phone users, the rates of brain cancer diagnoses didn’t markedly rise. This calls into question whether the results of the Swedish study are actually accurate.
Back in 2011, scientists from the WHO (World Health Organization) stated that cellular phones are “possibly carcinogenic.” They recommended that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) review its 1996 guidelines for safe radiation limits. Although glioma diagnoses rates are relatively low, it is a serious condition nonetheless. If cell phones are increasing a person’s risk, they should be aware of it.
Below is some criticism of the Swedish study. The criticism isn’t necessarily meant to attack the study nor its results. The goal of the criticism is to highlight some potential flaws that may have skewed the data of the researchers. Clearly there will be a need of future studies to confirm the latest (2014) findings from this Swedish study.
- Confounds: Unfortunately, this particular type of study is unable to prove with certainty that mobile phone usage caused some people to develop glioma. It is nearly impossible for the study to account for all potential confounds.
- Disregarding data: Despite the fact that data was collected via the questionnaire regarding chemical exposure, X-rays, etc. – this information was disregarded during statistical analyses.
- Estimating talk time: Another important fact to point out is that “estimates” regarding mobile and cordless phone usage were collected. These estimates spanned over a 25-year period, but it is unknown to what degree they are accurate. Most people aren’t necessarily the best at accurately estimating the amount of time they use a cell phone each day over the span of multiple decades.
- Generational changes: Critical thinkers also make the argument that the amount of time a person spends using their mobile phone has changed dramatically in recent years. In years past people used their cell phones less than today, but the glioma diagnoses rates didn’t noticeably increase.
- Recall bias: Some speculate that there may be some sort of “recall bias” among those who were diagnosed with brain cancer. They may have overestimated the amount of time they spent on the phone potentially as a means for justifying why they may have developed glioma.
- Reliability: The reliability gets called into question simply because the sample size was relatively small. Although it was one of the largest studies conducted to date, there is a clear need for studies with a larger sample size. Additionally, it is unknown whether the results of the questionnaire were completely accurate in regards to chemical exposure, hazardous waste, etc.
How might cell phones cause brain tumors?
It is currently unknown as to how RF-EMF (radio-frequency electromagnetic field) exposure from cell phones increases cancer risk. Some believe that each time you put the mobile phone up to your ear to have a conversation, the signal from the cell tower not only travels to your phone, but penetrates through the adult skull approximately 2 inches. Researchers note that among younger populations (e.g. children), this may penetrate the skull to an even greater extent.
Conclusion: Cell Phones Increase Risk of Brain Tumors
I think it’s being a little too critical to summarily dismiss the findings from this particular study. While the sample size is relatively small and there are potential confounds to consider, it doesn’t mean that the results are inaccurate. The number of people using cell phones in recent years and the time they spend talking on the phone has largely gone up, and if there is a possible causal link between glioma and cell phone radiation, it would be good to know.
As more people continue to buy and use cell phones, there will be a clear need to further investigate potential effects of the RF-EMF (radio-frequency electromagnetic field) radiation. You can interpret the results however you want. Some experts believe that the study didn’t really say much of anything, while others believe that it provides additional support for the fact that cell phones could cause glioma in some individuals.
Personally, I’m not going to stop using my cell phone because of this study, but I am going to take steps to minimize my RF-EMF exposure when I do use it. It’s better to be safe than sorry over the long-term. I plan on minimizing the amount of time I hold the phone directly against my ear to talk. I can use a headset attachment or put it on “speaker” to avoid radiation when taking long calls.
While this may seem like an gross overreaction to some people, I’d personally rather take some strides (even if they are minimal) to potentially reduce risk of glioma. While correlation doesn’t indicate causation, it doesn’t dismiss the possibility either. It is hoped that in the near future, cell phone manufacturers and/or providers will design devices and coverage networks to minimize RF-EMF radiation.
Although cell phones may not seem like an extreme health risk, it should also be understood that the power of cell phones with each successive generation appears to be steadily increasing. The good news in all this is that glioma and brain tumors are still relatively uncommon. Should glioma diagnoses increase at an alarming rate in the coming years, more research will be conducted. Strides will still need to be taken to better understand how RF-EMF exposure may be affecting our health.
Prevention: Ways to Minimize RF-EMF exposure from Cell Phones
Below is a list of tips that you may want to keep in mind if you believe that cell phones may pose some sort of health risk. Ultimately it is up to you to decide how extreme of precautionary measures you’d like to take.
- Keep away from children: Children and babies should not be allowed to use cell phones or have them near their head. The radiation from the phone penetrates their thinner skull and has potential to cause significantly more damage than on a fully developed adult. With the number of people using cell phones, chances are that some people have them near their babies.
- Go without it when you can: Most people tend to carry their cell phones like an invisible tether attached to their body… in other words it always comes with them. Take the time to detach this invisible tether and try to function without your phone for maybe one day per week to minimize any temptation to put it up to your head.
- Do NOT sleep with it under your pillow: A trap many people fall into is sleeping with their phone under their pillow. If the phone isn’t on airplane mode, it is constantly radiating RF-EMF. If you do need to sleep with your phone nearby, do yourself a favor and keep it on airplane mode.
- Use “airplane mode” frequently: If you are carrying your phone around, be sure to put it on airplane mode. While the radiation may not be harming your brain in your pocket, it may be affecting another part of your body. If phones have potential to cause brain tumors, they certainly could disrupt other functions.
- Use landline phones more often: If you plan on using a phone around the house and still have one that is landline and not-cordless, consider using it. By using a phone that requires a cord, you won’t be exposed to any sort of radiation. Cordless home phones do not count as these also cause radiation.
- Alternate ears used for talking: Researchers have stated that the side of the brain that is more exposed to your cell phone microwaves is more likely to develop the brain tumor. By alternating sides, you are balancing out the risk. The more you expose a single side of your head to your phone, the greater your risk.
- Use an EMF protective headset: So that you don’t need to place the phone directly up to your ear during a conversation, you could consider using the speaker phone more often. Any “wired” connection from your phone to your ears is still transmitting EMF. However, there are EMF-safe headsets that are “tubed” and designed to reduce exposure.
- EMF protective phone case: There are companies available like “Pong” that have created a phone case to minimize the amount of radiation to which you are exposed during a conversation. The case was specifically designed to cut the amount of radiation by nearly half to keep you protected and your brain safer. That said, it is unverified as to whether these really help or if they just block part of the signal, thus potentially blocking clarity of conversation.
- Minimize talk time: Another precautionary measure you could take is simply minimizing the amount of time you spend talking on the phone. Use your cell phone when necessary, but you may not want to scale back on the amount of time you spend having leisurely conversations.