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Cancer Genetics

Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Cancer

06/23/1999

Question:

I saw a TV news magazine report many years ago about a man who felt his deceased wife`s brain tumor was caused by her frequent use of a hand held cellular phone. I never heard any additional reports of any danger from using hand held cellular phones.

I am now considering purchasing a hand held model and wondering if I should be concerned about any possibility of this problem. Can you tell me if you have have heard any recent reports of brain tumors of any other problems being linked to frequent use of hand held cell phones.

Answer:

The answer to this question is very similar to an earlier question posted about an association between MRI studies and cancer. There are no scientific studies or even documented reports associating the use of cellular telephones and brain cancer. The role of electric and magnetic fields in causing cancer is a topic of much public interest, but adequate scientific evidence to make judgments is simply not available. There are two situations that have raised concern: low-frequency electric and magnetic fields around electric power transmission lines and high static magnetic fields connected with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems. Unlike X-rays, power low-frequency fields do not break the chemical bonds in the molecules of our bodies. Unlike microwaves, power frequency fields cannot cause significant tissue heating. There have been conflicting studies which do not provide convincing proof that such risks are an important consideration. Scientists no longer state, however, that there are no health risks. One study was released in 1995 which expressed concern that electromagnetic fields could account for some glial types of brain tumors (American Journal of Epidemiology 141:123-134). The vast majority of studies do not support such a conjecture. Unlike mobile cellular telephones, in which the antenna is not part of the handset, a portable cellular telephone exposes the user`s head to radio frequency energy transmitted from the antenna. This exposure is what has prompted concerns about potential biological effects, including brain cancer. A study published in 1996 in Epidemiology (7:303-305)compared the mortality of more than 250,000 portable and mobile telephone customers during 1994. Age-specific mortality rates were similar for users of the two types of telephones. For customers who had been using their telephones at least 3 years, the mortality rate for portable users was actually lower than that of mobile users. The potential health hazards from medical MRI studies may result from the simultaneous exposure to a high static magnetic field, pulsed magnetic gradient fields, and a radio frequency electromagnetic field. However, there are no known hazards in humans except for the magnetic force on such metallic implants as surgical clips and pacemakers. Experiments seeking to determine the effects of MRI on causing cancer have all shown no effect. Prolonged exposure to MRI examination does not lead to teratogenic effects (embryonic defects) in mice either.

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Response by:

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University