There have been a number of reports which suggest that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (REF), which are generated by mobile and cordless phones, may increase the risk of developing brain tumours. However, the evidence is often contradictory making it a difficult to draw a definite conclusion.
What is the current evidence?
A recent research paper from a group in Australia examined a potential relationship and concluded that the general increase in brain tumours which has been observed in over the last 20 years can probably be attributed to improved diagnostic techniques and is unlikely to be associated with an increase in mobile phone use. However, a group in Sweden suggest that some of the cancer registries which have been used previously may be unreliable and that they have failed to detect all cases of brain tumours, so the effect of REF cannot be ruled out. We also don’t know how the phones might stimulate tumour development. Although the phones give off microwave radiation, this has millions of times less energy than, say, an X-ray and is therefore unlikely to be powerful enough to damage our DNA to make cells cancerous. But we can’t discount the fact that there may be other ways by which REF could be having an effect.
How can we study the potential of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in the generation of rain tumours?
The key research challenge is to identify the appropriate information that is available and determine how this could be used to assess any causal relationship between REF and brain tumours. We know that there is a great variation between the time between tumour initiation and the development of symptoms. This can depend on both the tumour type and the area of the brain in which it is located. In some cases, the tumour may remain dormant for a number of years before symptoms appear. If we can’t tell accurately when the tumor initially developed, it is extremely difficult to try to identify specific causes. So we need to carry out “population studies” and look for trends in disease incidence and general lifestyle changes. However, the results that have been obtained from a number of studies in this area are inconsistent and are very much determined by the data that is available and how it is analysed.
What is the current position?
The International Agency for Research into Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation, convened a panel of experts in 2011 to examine the evidence which was available at the time. They concluded that REF should be classified as a Group 2B carcinogen, which means that it “possibly” causes cancer in humans. While there may be an association, that the available evidence did not allow for a definitive conclusion to be drawn. This is the same category as lead, engine exhaust, DDT, and jet fuel. However, others suggest that REF should be reclassified as Group 2A (probable̓ human carcinogen). WHO is currently conducting a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields exposure and a report is due to be published later this year.
What should we do?
The UK Department of Health has published a leaflet which recommends that children under 16 should only use mobile phones for short essential calls as children have been found to absorb 60% more radiation into the head than adults when they use a phone Mobile phone user manuals warn customers to keep the phone away from the body when turned on and not to hold it right up to the head
Brain Tumour Research recommends that mobile phones and wireless-free telephone receivers should be used with care and remote speakers or microphones should be used whenever possible.