In the largest epidemiological study carried out to date, no link was shown between mobile phone use and the occurrence of brain tumours.
Increasing mobile phone use has led to public concern about possible cancer risks, and the Interphone study was conducted between 2000 and 2004 to address these concerns. Interphone is an interview-based, case-control study [i] of mobile phone use and risk of brain and certain other tumours [ii]. It was coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and carried out in 13 countries [iii], of which the largest contribution was from the UK, with lead researchers at the University of Leeds and The Institute of Cancer Research. The results for several of the countries, including the UK, were published several years ago.
The paper published today in the International Journal of Epidemiology combines data from all 13 countries and focuses on the two main types of brain tumour, glioma and meningioma.
Professor Patricia McKinney, epidemiologist at the University of Leeds and leader of the UK North part of Interphone, said “Overall this research has not shown evidence of an increased risk of developing a glioma or meningioma brain tumour as a result of using a mobile phone. This is consistent with published biological studies, which have not established any effect of exposure to radiation from mobile phones at a cellular level nor found a mechanism by which cancer could be caused”.
A total of 2708 men and women aged 30-59 years with glioma and 2409 with meningioma, and matched adult controls without a brain tumour, were interviewed about their mobile phone use. Participants were asked about when they started using a mobile phone, how many times per day they used their phone, and how long the calls were.
The study found no overall increase in risk of glioma or meningioma brain tumours in regular users of mobile phones. Indeed regular users had an apparently decreased risk, although this decrease seems likely to be an artefact of the study methods and not a real effect from using a mobile phone. No relationship was found between the risk of a tumour and the number of years people had been using mobile phones; risks were not raised for people who had used mobile phones for the longest category analysed – 10 or more years.
For the estimated total (cumulative) hours of phone use there was an apparently increased risk of glioma seen in the highest ten percent of users. However, some of these had reported improbable levels of use, for instance 12 or more hours every day; there was no trend of increasing risk with greater phone use for people in the nine lower use categories; and there was no relation to risk for the cumulative number of phone calls made. These factors suggest that the apparently increased risk with the highest cumulative hours of use cannot be interpreted as evidence of mobile phones causing brain tumours.
Subjects were asked the side on which they had used a phone, but no conclusion about brain tumour causation could be drawn from this because their recollection and reporting of the side of use may well have been biased by their knowledge of the side that their tumour occurred.
Professor Anthony Swerdlow, epidemiologist at The Institute of Cancer Research and leader of the UK South part of the Interphone project, said “Interphone is by far the largest study of its type to date. The balance of evidence from this study, and in the previously existing scientific literature, does not suggest a causal link between mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours. The duration of phone use for which we yet have evidence is currently limited, however, and we have virtually no information for use of mobile phones for longer than 15 years.”
For all enquiries please contact Tom Sheldon at the Science Media Centre on 020 7670 2976.
Notes to Editors:
[i] A case-control study compares the frequency of an exposure or behaviour (in this instance mobile phone use, as reported at interview) between people with a disease (“the cases”) (in this instance people with brain tumours) and people who have not had the disease (“the controls”) (in this instance members of the general population).
[ii] Acoustic neuroma and (in some countries) salivary gland tumours.
[iii] Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk
The University of Leeds
One of the UK’s largest medical and bioscience research bases, the University of Leeds is an acknowledged world leader in bioengineering, cancer, cardiovascular, epidemiology, molecular genetics, musculoskeletal, dentistry, psychology and applied health economics research. Treatments developed in Leeds are transforming the lives of peoples worldwide with conditions such as diabetes, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. For more information visit www.leeds.ac.uk
The UK North and South studies received funding from the Mobile Telecommunications Health and Research (MTHR) programme (www.mthr.org.uk) and as part of the Interphone study from the EU, the Mobile Manufacturers Forum and the GSM Association through the scientifically independent Union Internationale Contre le Cancer (UICC). The provision of funds to Interphone via UICC was governed by agreements that guaranteed Interphone complete scientific independence. The terms are publicly available at http://www. iarc.fr/en/research-groups/RAD/RCAd.html. In addition the northern UK study received funding from the Health and Safety Executive, the Department of Health, the UK network Operators (O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and ’3’) and the Scottish Executive. The funding from the mobile phone operators to the University of Leeds was received under legal signed contractual agreement which ensured the complete independence of the investigators.
The UK North study covered Central Scotland, Trent, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. The UK South study covered the South East of England, including London.