Long-Term Study of Cancer and Cell Phones Ordered

Posted on January 20, 2007

The Times Online reports that a mass study of 200,000 cell phones users will look at the possibility of a long-term cancer risk from cell phone use.

More than 200,000 volunteers, including long-term users, are to be monitored for at least five years to plot mobile phone use against any serious diseases they develop, including cancer and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Professor Lawrie Challis, who is in the final stages of negotiation with the Department of Health and the mobile phone industry for the &3 million that he needs to fund the study, told The Times that research has shown that mobiles are very safe in the short term but that there is a "hint of something" for people using them longer.

In an interview, Professor Challis, a world expert on mobile phone radiation, and chairman of the government-funded mobile telecommunications health research programme, emphasised that the "hint" was just that. One European study has found a slight association and using a mobile for more than ten years. The few long-term users developed more acoustic neuroma brain tumours which were found close to the ear used for phoning.

But, because of the tiny numbers involved, "it could be by chance," he said. Asked whether the mobile phone could turn out to be the cigarette of the 21st century in terms of the damage it could inflict, he replied: "Absolutely."

Challis told the Times that the reason a long-term study is needed is because it sometimes takes a decade or longer for a cancer to develop from exposure to radiation or a toxin.
He said that the study was necessary because all the important breakthroughs in what caused cancers had shown that the effects often took more than ten years to show. "You find absolutely nothing for ten years and then after that it starts to grow dramatically. It goes up ten times. You look at what happened after the atomic bombs at Nagasaki, Hiroshima. You find again a long delay, nothing for ten years. The same for asbestos."
Hopefully, these new studies will show that cell phones do not result in a higher likelihood of tumor growth but if cell phones do increase cancer risk we will all want to know. Past studies on cell phones have hinted at possible links to benign acoustic neuromas and lower sperm counts but a Danish long-term study disputed a cancer link. The Times article includes a helpful roundup of some past cell phones studies at the bottom of the article. CNET has an interesting chart that shows the cell phones with the highest radiation levels. Whether or not you fear cancer caused from cell phone radiation you should still make sure your cell phone is not dirtier than a toilet seat.

More from Science Space & Robots