pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

Cell Phone Use and Brain Tumor

How long has it been now since there was a big deal made by the press about cell phone use causing cancer? Ten years? More? I honestly don’t remember; but, it’s been quite awhile. And what was the Answer? Did they ever say?
Cell phones: Not just a telephone anymore
I mean, it wasn’t long ago that we were barraged by the media about testicular cancer from cell phones as they tried to embellish controversy to pump up ratings. We heard it so much, I remember looking into it and found that there actually was some research; but, for the life of me, I can’t remember who or where or even what I found (except that it must not have been too conclusive cause I didn’t bother remembering it.)

This Is Your Brain On Cell Phones – Brain Tumor

Over a decade later there is more wireless communication on our laps, on our hips, over our eyes and near our brains than even the nay-sayers ever hoped they were prognosticating! And there’s more brain tumor and cancer of every type.

Electromagnetic radiation (EMF) is EVERYWHERE! It opens our doors, cooks our food, flips our channels, plays our games, radars our approach, blasts our face all day at work and powers just about any and every gadget invented and made in the past 10 years.

Instead of our hips and private parts, now health risk concerns center on our brains – the main target of the radio frequency EMF (RF-EMF) power-diving out of our mobile and cordless phones. Which are now, of course, more penetrating, powerful and distance-busting than ever.

So once again, rumors of new evidence have been trickling out about the increased brain tumor risk associated with use of wireless phones. Except that now the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) at the World Health Organization has actually concluded that RF-EMF exposure is “possibly” a human carcinogen.

So Let’s Do A Study

Is anybody going to brave a study on cell phones and brain tumors? Actually one was done recently in Orebro Sweden at the University Hospital, by Dr. Lennart Hardell and his compatriots, which showed some things that people didn’t like.

Why, still after all this time, should we be fussing about this?! It either does cause or contribute to cancer (brain tumor or otherwise) or it doesn’t – can’t people figure this out? Fifteen to 20 years since we first started worrying about this is long enough to have done an extensive study with massive amounts of data!

Well, as it turns out, this topic is HARD to study. And we all know how people feel about things that are hard. Nobody does them! If they do, there are nay-sayers who will jump all over you like snot on a toad pointing out all the defects in your study. Nay-saying is EASY, arm-chair wannabe’s can do it without burning even 10 calories – so they do.

Infant using a cell phone, risk of brain tumor?RF-EMF, we start ’em young

As it turns out, the cell phone-brain tumor study I’m describing found evidence that: Long-term use of both mobile and cordless phones is associated with an increased risk for glioma, the most common type of brain tumor.

Bottom line: a substantial proportion of people diagnosed with a glioma brain tumor have used a wireless phone for more than 25 years, and the risk was even greater for those who had started using mobile or cordless phones younger than age 20. The risk was, in fact, TRIPLED for wireless users.

I have to say that it didn’t seem to me like the study authors tried to embellish any findings and were well aware of the difficulties in interpreting the findings (published in the journal Pathophysiology, Oct 2015). They merely reported their findings and cautioned that physicians should be “concerned about this enough to discuss precautions about cell phones with their patients.”

The precautions they suggested: use hands-free features with “loud-speakers” and text instead of phoning.

Study Methods and Data

What they did was to pool data from 2 previous case-controlled studies on brain tumors (histopathologically confirmed by microscope) then match them with “control” participants of the same gender and approximate age randomly drawn from the Swedish Population Registry.

Ending up with 1498 cases of brain tumors and 3530 “controls” makes this meta-study considered massive, as far as brain tumor studies go. That’s a whole lot of brain tumor occurances between 1997 and 2009 in 18 to 80 year olds for any one country, even if it was drawn from 6 different centers! And especially for such a small country.

All participants filled out a questionnaire detailing exposure to mobile phones and cordless desktop phones. Over all mean age was 52 and over half the tumors (50.3%) were astrocytoma grade 4 (glioblastoma multiforme) the most malignant variety.

Statistical analysis of those 5,028 people showed an increased risk for glioma associated with use for more than 1 year of both mobile and cordless phones – after adjustment for age at diagnosis, gender, socioeconomic index, and year of diagnosis. The highest risk for brain tumor was for those with the longest latency for mobile phone use at 25 years.

There was also a dose-response pattern noticed, showing that high cell phone use wasn’t merely a random thing. ODDs RATIO (OR) means the risk of having some experience if you first have some other experience. An OR of “1” is equivalent to flipping a coin heads or tails – namely purely chance coincidence. Higher than “1” means one thing does lead to the other, lower than “1” means that one thing protects against the other.

Odds Ratio at the 95% Confidence Interval

Usage: Risk
Mobile phone use > 1 year: 1.3 (1.1 – 1.6) [30% greater]
Cordless phone use > 1 year: 1.4 (1.1 – 1.7) [40% greater]
Mobile phone use > 25 years: 3.0 (1.7 – 5.2) [300% greater]

The Researchers Interpretation

Teen boy with head morphed the shape of a cell phone, leads to brain tumor?If you cross your eyes they’ll stay that way

This is how the researchers viewed their findings:

  1. The risk was increased the more that wireless phones were used.
  2. The odds ratios (ORs) steadily increased with increasing hours of use.
  3. The risk for glioma was greatest in the most exposed part of the brain.
  4. The ORs were higher for “same side” exposure and for glioma in the temporal and overlapping lobes.
  5. AND, the risk was highest for those who began using wireless phones before age 20.

Children up to their early 20’s have a greater RF-EMF penetration and exposure because of their thinner skull bones, smaller heads and higher conductivity of their brain tissue. Heck, we now know that puberty (brain development) extends into the early 20’s before many mental skills develop!

This study even showed the beginning of greater risk for those who are now exposed to the wider-band microwave emissions of the 3-G mobile phones! They’ve only been out for a few years so it’s a wonder that anything is showing up yet. Imagine what 4-G does!

And of course the study did show that the p53 gene was implicated as well but other studies have previously discovered that.

Hardell and his companions state that “the new findings reinforce the message that RF-EMF emissions from wireless phones should be regarded as carcinogenic under IARC classifications” and that guidelines for exposure should be revised to reflect it.

They realize that a few previous studies failed to find strong evidence (i.e. Int J Epidemiol 2011;39:675-694; Cancer Epidemiol 2011;32:453-464) but they all had their own unique limitations not found in this study.

The “Nay Sayers”

Like we know, it’s easy to find rebuttal. The most common is that the data “still isn’t convincing.” And, it’s true that for most things related to medicine we DO like to see a much stronger statistical cause-effect relation.

However, there are some issues where circumstances will prevent ever knowing conclusively. No board of human experimentation would ever approve a study where enough humans had their head’s specifically targeted with RF-EMF at high enough dose and duration to circumvent the massive number of variables normally found in human daily life! Let’s hope not anyway!

Additionally, I’ve heard some critics retort such silly things as: “they didn’t totally control for all radiation exposure” or “how can you be sure the patients recall memory for phone use was correct” or “it was biased because people with tumors want to blame it on something.”

One less than stellar criticism was that “most people write with their right hand so would hold the phone to their left ear, not their dominant side.” Huh? What percentage of the time do phone users spend holding a pencil???

The only real question about this I’ve heard is that there are several other tumors which are much more faster growing than the tumors the authors studied, and tumors closer to the phone like the skin; so why don’t we see more of those tumors? Good question. Not the one we’re asking but good none-the-less.

We don’t know anything about relative differences in frequencies and penetration and cell type susceptibility so using that as a nay-sayer argument is silly in the first place. If we have to know all that first then we’ll never solve this problem. Should we be worried about all the blue-tooth transmitter’s we’re planting inside our elderlies ears for hearing aides?

The REAL Issue

Look, this study doesn’t give us any answers more than what it showed and we still don’t know many things. And, there is no question that the cell phone has tremendously effected our entire culture – most for the better.

BUT, come on. Just how much evidence do YOU as a parent really need in order to begin acting on behalf of YOUR child – even before all the scientists get done with their squabbling for answers and bragging rights?

Absolutely no manufacturing company is WILLINGLY going to make any effort at R&D toward safety until there is something in it for them. Shouldn’t we be putting some effort into minimizing radiation, which we already know how to measure. And should we be “massive-izing” our phones toward higher and higher tissue penetration without the same effort toward safety?

I’m telling my patients, and now you, that: for heaven’s sake, at very least don’t let your teen daughters (or anyone you love) spend hours and hours gab-festing with their “BFFs” on WIRELESS phones – at LEAST make them switch to the land-line. You do still have one of those, right?


[Pathophysiology. Published online October 28, 2014. Abstract]


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