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New Study Revives Old Debate About Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

By Keith Regan
Mar 31, 2006 11:37 AM PT

A new study that is sure to revive an old debate says that long-term cell phone use may increase a person's risk of developing brain cancer.

New Study Revives Old Debate About Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

The Swedish National Institute for Working Life said its examination of the health and cell phone habits of more than 900 people who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor showed a correlation with heavy cell phone use.

Conflicting Results

"A total of 85 of these 905 cases were so-called high users of mobile phones, that is they began early to use mobile and/or wireless telephones and used them a lot," the authors said in the summary of the study. "The study also shows that the rise in risk is noticeable for tumors on the side of the head where the phone was said to be used."

The study defined heavy use as 2,000 cumulative hours worth of calls and found that people who fit that category had a 240 percent increased risk for a malignant tumor on the side of the head where they typically held the phone.

The latest research could bring the debate about the health of cell phones back to the forefront, though it does little to clear up the confusion that has marked the discussion for several years.

In fact, the new report contradicts several recent reports, including a study released last year by the Dutch Health Council, which was seen by many, particularly those in the mobile phone industry, as a definitive review of all existing research on the topic.

That report said there was no hard evidence that radiation emitted by phones -- or the higher levels given off by mobile phone and television transmission towers -- was harmful.

Growing Concern

Another study released in January by researchers in Britain based on four years of interviews and surveys also found no link with the most common type of brain tumors.

Medical researchers have long worried about the risks of cell phones, since they do emit a low amount of radiation when being used and are often pressed against a user's head, sometimes for long periods of time.

At the same time, the number of people exposed to enough cell phone radiation to cause problems is growing rapidly -- some young cell phone users may already have 10 or more years of use under their belts by the time they reach working age.

The issue of health risks has given rise to shielding inventions sold through late-night infomercials, but has resulted in little changes the way cell phones are designed to be used.

The mobile phone industry often points to the studies showing no risk of health effects, but may yet face legal challenges on the issue.

Last March, a federal appeals court in Maryland reinstated five class-action lawsuits that allege that the cell phone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation.

Some experts advise using headsets to minimize any risk, since the antenna area is where most phones emit radiation.

Hard Habit to Break

The Swedish institute has found similar links in the past, publishing a study in 2001 that found "an increased risk for brain tumors among users of analog cellular telephones" which were still the dominant technology at the time. "An increased risk for digital cellular phones and cordless phones could not be ruled out," that study also concluded.

Telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said even strong evidence of health risks are unlikely to change consumers' habits, let alone dueling studies that seem to point to varying conclusions.

If anything, the health concerns are a footnote to the marketing message about the convenience, fun and usefulness of mobile phones and next-generation technology, some of which may actually help by letting users operate phones more at arm's-length, while typing or reading, rather than pressed against the head.

"We have become a mobile phone culture in a very short period of time," Kagan told TechNewsWorld. "I don't expect to see many people to give them up now or even reduce their use -- the trends are going in the other direction."


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