Saturday 2 July 2011
Accumulating scientific research is increasingly against the theory that mobile phone use causes brain tumours, a comprehensive analysis from an independent international expert panel has found.
The review was conducted by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Standing Committee on Epidemiology* chaired by Professor Anthony Swerdlow from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR),
The ICNIRP committee analysed all published studies that have examined whether there is a link between mobile phone use and the main types of brain tumour, glioma and meningioma.
In a paper published today in Environmental Health Perspectives, Professor Swerdlow and colleagues conclude: “Although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumours in adults.”
The review comes after the publication of the largest epidemiological study to date, the 13-country, Interphone Study, which was coordinated by the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC). Professor Swerdlow and collaborators examined the Interphone Study in detail, noting that it was impressively large and comprehensive but had several methodological deficits. They concluded that its results, in conjunction with other studies that have examined risks after use of mobile phones and the location of tumours relative to phone use, gave no convincing evidence of a link.
Importantly, Professor Swerdlow and colleagues write that studies from several countries have shown no indication of increases in brain tumour incidence up to 20 years after the introduction of mobile phones and 10 years after their use became widespread. Extensive research has also not established any biological mechanism by which radiofrequency fields from mobile phones could cause cancer, and animal experiments have also shown no evidence for cancer causation.
However, the authors say that uncertainty is bound to remain for many years to come, as research cannot in principle prove the complete absence of an effect, data are currently generally limited to 10 to 15 years of exposure in adults, and data are not available for childhood phone use.
“The results of Interphone and other epidemiological, biological and animal studies, and brain tumour incidence trends, suggest that within 10 to 15 years after first use of mobile phones there is unlikely to be a material increase in the risk of brain tumours in adults,” Professor Swerdlow says. “However, the possibility of a small or a longer term effect cannot be ruled out.”
Professor Swerdlow says examination of cancer incidence rates over the next few years should greatly clarify whether mobile phones cause brain tumours.
“If there are no apparent effects on trends in the next few years, after almost universal exposure to mobile phones in Western countries, it will become increasingly implausible that there is a material causal effect. Conversely, if there are unexplained rising trends, there will be a case to answer,” he says.
The publication follows renewed public attention following the IARC’s classification earlier this month that radiofrequency fields, which are emitted by mobile phones, were “possibly” carcinogenic There are around 4.6 billion mobile phone users worldwide.
* The ICNIRP Standing Committee on Epidemiology comprises leading experts from the UK (Professor A Swerdlow), Sweden (Professor M Feychting), Australia (Professor A Green) and the US (Professors L Kheifets and D Savitz). The ICNIRP is the international body, recognised by WHO, that constructs guidelines for exposure limits for non-ionizing radiation, including radiofrequency fields emitted by mobile phones, and publishes reviews of the health effects of such exposures.
Professor Swerdlow led one of the two British research teams involved in the Interphone study.
Mobile Phones, Brain Tumours and the Interphone Study: Where Are We Now? publishes in Environmental Health Perspectives at 19.00 EDT on Friday July 1 (00.01 BST Saturday July 2).
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 90 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
- The Institute of Cancer Research’s Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit (ICR- CTSU) is an academic clinical trials unit accredited by the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) to conduct clinical trials into cancer treatments. The department is funded by an infrastructure grant from Cancer Research UK.
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk