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Phone Use Not Likely Linked to Brain Cancer
Extensive media attention has focused on the health implications
of the use of cellular telephones. The concern has been based primarily
on anecdotal evidence that the microwave-frequency signals these
phones transmit could cause brain cancer. One recent investigation a
National Cancer Institute (NCI) study reported this month in the New
England Journal of Medicine found that it is highly
unlikely that the use of cell phones increases the risk of brain
Between 1994 and 1998, the researchers examined 782 patients with
confirmed brain tumors in Phoenix, Boston, and Pittsburgh hospitals.
The patients were divided into groups by tumor type and compared
with 799 controls admitted to these hospitals for other conditions.
Researchers collected data about cell phone use through personal
interviews with each of the study participants. The interviewer
asked when the participants first began using a hand-held cell
phone, when they last used one, how often and how frequently they
used these phones, the duration of a typical cell phone call, and
with which hand they usually held the handset.
Cell phone use was not significantly associated with any of the
tumor types. The percentage of controls (29%) who reported using
a cell phone more than five times was almost identical to the percentage
of brain cancer patients who reported using them (22-31% grouped
by tumor type). Risk was not higher among regular users who began
using cell phones earlier, nor did it rise significantly with the
increased duration of use, frequency of use, or total overall use.
In addition, tumors did not occur disproportionately on the side
of the head on which the cell phone was more frequently used.
The NCI authors point out, however, that since cell phones were
introduced only 20 years ago, and were not widely used until the
mid-1990s, the possibility of harm associated with long-term, heavy
use cannot be predicted. They also note that technological advances
may alter the design of future cell phones, affecting cancer risk.
Thus, the connection between cancer and cell phone use is likely
to be revisited in years to come.
January 2001 Update