Cell Phones and Cancer Update

Editor’s Note: For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s watching the big tobacco companies repeatedly deny any link between cigarettes and lung cancer, this all seems very familiar. It looks like there is a crack in the armor now, despite the money that will inevitably be poured in to fill the gap. Stay tuned…

Cell Phones and Cancer – What is the Latest?

A brain tumor (intracranial solid neoplasm) is an abnormal growth of cells within the brain or central spinal cord.

Any brain tumor is inherently serious and life-threatening because of its invasive and infiltrative character in the limited space of the intracranial cavity. However, brain tumors (even malignant ones) are not invariably fatal. Brain tumors can be:-

  • Malignant (Cancerous)
  • And Benign (Non-cancerous)

Primary brain tumors are commonly located in the posterior cranial fossa (posterior side of brain) in children and in the anterior two-thirds of the cerebral hemispheres (largest part of the brain) in adults, although they can affect any part of the brain.

Characteristics of tumors:-

  • Anaplasia:- loss of differentiation of cells and of their orientation to one another and blood vessels
  • Atypia: - is an indication of abnormality of a cell (which may be indicative for malignancy).
  • Neoplasia:- is the (uncontrolled) division of cells
  • Necrosis:- is the premature death of cells, caused by external factors such as infection, toxin or trauma

Signs and symptoms:-Mainly depends on tumor size (volume) & location. It can be divided in 3 main categories:-

  • Raised Intracranial Pressure: - Headache, Vomiting, Altered state of consciousness, Dilatation of the pupil on the side of the lesion, Papilledema (Optic/Eye disc swelling).
  • Dysfunction:- Impaired judgment, Memory loss, Lack of recognition, Spatial orientation disorders, Personality or emotional changes, Paralysis
  • Irritation: – Abnormal fatigue, Weariness (temporary loss of strength and energy resulting from hard physical or mental work, Absences and Tremors

Diagnosis: - The diagnosis will often start with questioning of the patient to get a clear view of his medical antecedents (events/history), and his current symptoms. Clinical and laboratory investigations will serve to exclude infections as the cause of the symptoms. It includes:-

  • Ophthalmological examination (Eye Examination)
  • Otolaryngological (Ear, Nose & Throat Examination)
  • Electrophysiological exam (Mainly brain related tests like EEG)

Treatment: – The various types of treatment are available depending on neoplasm (tumor) type and location and may be combined to give the best chances of survival:-

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy

Cellular Phones

Cell phones communicate with nearby cell towers through RF waves, a form of energy located on the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, they are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They cannot cause cancer by directly damaging DNA. RF waves are different from stronger types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light, which can break the chemical bonds in DNA.

How are people exposed?

The RF waves from cell phones come from the antenna, which is part of the body of a hand-held phone. The waves are strongest at the antenna and lose energy as they travel away from the antenna. The phone is typically held against the side of the head when in use. The closer the antenna is to the head, the greater a person’s expected exposure to RF energy.

Many factors can affect the amount of RF energy to which a person is exposed, including:

  • The amount of time the person is on the phone
  • The model of phone being used: different phones give off different amounts of energy
  • Whether or not the person is using a hands-free device
  • The distance and path to the nearest cell phone tower: being farther away from the tower requires more energy to get a good signal, as does being inside a building
  • The amount of cell phone traffic in the area at the time

Other factors may also affect exposure. For example, older cell phones (analog models) used more energy than newer, digital phones.

Linking Between Cell Phones & Brain Tumor

Because cell phones are held near the head when in use, the main concern has been over whether they might cause or contribute to tumors in this area.

About 30 studies have looked at possible links between cell phone use and tumors. Most of these studies have focused on brain tumors. Many of these have been case-control studies, in which patients with brain tumors (cases) were compared to people free of brain tumors (controls), in terms of their past use of cell phones.

In general, these studies have yielded similar results:

  • In most studies patients with brain tumors do not report more cell phone use overall than the controls. This finding is true when all brain tumors are considered as a group, or when specific types of tumors are considered.
  • Most studies do not show a “dose-response relationship” — a tendency for the risk of brain tumors to increase with increasing cell phone use, which would be expected if cell phone use caused brain tumors.
  • Several studies published by the same research group in Sweden report increased risk of tumors on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, particularly with 10 or more years of use. It is hard to know what to make of these findings because studies by other researchers have not had the same results, and there is no overall increase in brain cancer in Sweden during the years that correspond to these reports.

Earlier in 2007 a new Finnish study published online in the International Journal of Cancer mentioned that using a cell phone regularly – even a modern one – raises the risk of developing a brain tumor for many users

A study published in May 2008 and led by one of the world’s top neurosurgeons, Australian Vini Khurana, found that exposure to mobile phone radiation has many effects on the body. The handset radiations could heat the side of the head or potentially thermoelectrically interact with the brain, whereas Bluetooth devices and unshielded headsets could alter the handset user’s head into an effective, potentially self-harming antenna. He concluded, after reviewing over 100 existing studies, that using cell phones for a period of ten years or more could increase the risk of brain cancer.

In October of 2009, University of California, a consortium of Korean institutions examined 465 articles published in major journals, focusing on 23 case-controlled studies involving a total of 37,916 patients for their final analysis. Some of the patients (controls) had no history of brain tumors, while the others had been diagnosed with brain tumors. Considered as a group, the studies showed no link between cell phone use and brain tumors. But separated into subgroups and reanalyzed, eight of the “higher quality” studies, most conducted by the same research team in Sweden, found cell phone users to have a 10 to 30 percent increased risk for developing a brain tumor, compared with people who rarely or never use them. The risk was highest among those who had used cell phones for a decade or longer.

The Debate over Cell Phone –Cancer Link is reignited by WHO findings:-

On May 31st, 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) has said that cell phones are possibly carcinogenic to humans and have placed them in the same category as DDT & engine exhaust.

On June 1st, 2011 Scientists at WHO classified cell phones as  carcinogenic: In a debate that has been ongoing with divisive opinions and inconclusive evidence, the WHO has come out and stated that the radiation emitted from cell phones can “possibly” boost the risk of brain cancer.

The new classification for cell phones (microwaves and radar, all of which were given a “2B” classification) was issued on May 31 in Lyon, France by the panel. The international group of scientists making this determination is comprised of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States. According to the Yahoo! report, this agency is a division of WHO and sends their assessments on to WHO and other national health agencies so these groups can offer direction on recommended levels of cell phone use. They concluded that there is “limited” evidence suggesting that mobile phones raise the risk of malignant brain tumors by 40 per cent, but only in heavy users who have made calls lasting 30 minutes per day for 10 years. There was also limited evidence of increased risk for a type of brain cancer called acoustic neuroma, but not for any other types of brain cancer.

Currently WHO advises that cell phone users limit exposure to this kind of radiation.  While the agency does indicate more research is needed to provide a definite link between cell phone use and cancer.  However, experts vouch for the precautions suggested by the WHO to minimize the use of mobile phones. So one can opt for text messaging, e-mail, landline phone use and reduce the time spent talking on mobile phones to reduce the risk.  Youngsters, who comprise nearly 60 percent of the over 600 million user base and are particularly susceptible to radiation, should try to limit exposure through these precautions.