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Cell Phones and Brain Cancer - Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?

Updated on August 3, 2017
johnr54 profile image

Even though technology has advanced since this Hub was written, many of the opinions still are current.

iPhone 4
iPhone 4

Brain Cancer Caused by Cell Phone Usage?

For several years now, there have been studies connecting cell phone usage and brain cancer. The latest round of press chasing this story is due to this "report" from Dr. Khurana which actually has no original research, but is a collection of previously reported studies. It should be noted that many of the cited studies point to no demonstrated risk. Many of the studies just hypothesize potential risk mechanisms, and in general suggest ways cell phone radiation could cause health problems.

But, rather than grind through all the data on Specific Absorption Rates (SAR) and microwave heating of the brain, let's take a look at the press grabbing headline that states "It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking,..."

This is apparently done for effect. The focus of the press is put on the risk of brain cancer. That's most likely because cancer is a disease that frightens many people, often for good reason, and few cancers sound more invasive and deadly than brain cancer.

How Is Cell Phone Use Affecting Brain Cancer?

So, how serious is the threat of brain cancer, and how is cell phone usage affecting the occurrence of brain cancer?

Dr. Khurana suggests: The "incubation time" or "latency" (i.e., the time from commencement of regular mobile phone usage to the diagnosis of a malignant solid brain tumor in a susceptible individual) may be in the order of 10-20 years. In the years 2008- 2012, we will have reached the appropriate length of follow-up time to begin to definitively observe the impact of this global technology on brain tumor incidence rates."

In June of 2012, the National Cancer Institute has released their findings and they conflict with Dr. Khurana's theory.

Some Facts on Brain Cancer

Why make this statement about latency? Because in 2007, 11 years after the introduction of the StarTac phone from Motorola, when portable cell phone usage really started to take off, there is still no evidence in increased brain cancer rates of a link strong enough to be measurable.

In fact, brain cancer is not very prevalent in adults at all. From the 2012 estimates for cancer rates in the US taken from the American Cancer Society web site, we note a couple of things. There were over 1.638 million new cases of cancer in the US in 2012. Of those, about 23,000 were brain cancer, or under .72% of new cases. But it turns out even this statistic is misleading.

Brain Cancer - A Disease of the Young

Brain cancer is diagnosed more often in young children; in fact it accounts for almost 24% of cancers found in children under the age of 15, second only to leukemia. This has been true for years. This would diminish the "number of people who use cell phones" category since so many victims are children.

Something to think about but not for this articles perspective: we all know the number of children using cell phones is rampant and increasing daily.

What If All the Theories Are True?

The worst case scenario Dr. Khurana quotes (recall that he is simply repeating old studies, nothing new here), is that after the "latency" period is over, we may see a 39% increase in brain cancers for those who have been using cell phones "heavily" for 10-20 years. Let's make the generous assumption that includes 100% of the population of the US, so we could expect at most 3,900 new cases each year. Thats an increase in the total cancer rate of 0.27%.

That's what all the fuss is about - 3,900 cases (please do not think we are unsympathetic to those who have brain cancer, we are). Compare that 3,900 new cases to the 213,000 new cases of lung cancer in 2007, where there is well documented link between smoking and lung cancer. That's not to mention the impact smoking has on other cancer rates like pancreatic cancer, along with heart disease, incidence of stroke, and emphysema. How do you come up with the conclusion that cell phone usage "has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking,..."?

Still Worried About Cancer?

If you are worried about cancer, I suggest you worry about some real threats:

  • Stop smoking or don't start
  • Lose weight - A high Body Mass Index has increased the incidence of a variety of cancers, including esophageal and bladder cancers, not to mention the impact it has on risk of heart disease and diabetes and just wear and tear on your body. Have you ever seen a "heavy" 100 year old?
  • Get regular colonoscopies - Colon cancer is often referred to as the most preventable of all cancers, yet there were still over 143,00 new cases in 2012. Statistics show a decrease in this type of cancer due to awareness and preventative health maintenance.
  • And of course regular mammograms and prostate exams

If you're still worried about cell phones and cancer:

  • Use a wired or wireless remote earpiece when using your phone

Are Cell Phones Dangerous to Your Health?

Anyone who has seen other drivers do the cell phone weave knows what this report suggests, that drivers using cell phones are as bad as drunk drivers. So, if you are worried about the impact using cell phones can have on your life expectancy, GET OFF THE PHONE WHEN YOU ARE DRIVING. The most current campaign to take heed from is regarding texting and driving which has been proven to be a very dangerous threat to our younger generations.

In many states, it is now illegal to operate a cell phone using your hands. It must be hands free. There are also laws on teens not using their phones while driving for the first year behind the wheel.

We are making progress, but ultimately it's up to the person to make the choice.


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    • blogging2 profile image

      Rebecca Jones 3 years ago from Florida

      As one of those few cases that all the "fuss is about" I feel it relevant to note that the cases of cancer associated with smoking were "minscule" at best when the dangers were first recoginzed. The dangers of cigarettes are absoluetly known as are the dangers of obesity and the other things mentioned. My personal experience is that the rate is increasing expdentially, two major cancer research centers have both told me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the cell phone caused my gleoblastoma. I agree there are many things that can help prevent cancer as you listed, but please don't mislead people o believe that cell phones are safe... there is just not enough data and I do understand that there can be data found for both sides.

    • claudiafox profile image

      claudiafox 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Yes, mobiles phones and similar devices were rated as cancer risk, from May 2011. "World Health Organization's cancer research report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which states that radio frequency electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phones are 'possibly carcinogenic to humans' and asserts that heavy usage could lead to a possible increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer".

    • profile image

      GNworks 7 years ago

      Interesting article about cell phones. Great article.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thank you for answering my request. You really cleared up a lot of misinformation with facts and reason. Great hub!

    • pjdscott profile image

      pjdscott 9 years ago from Durham, UK

      Some great analysis and argument here. The facts clearly speak louder that the hysterical claims, as your hub shows.

    • crazycat profile image

      crazycat 9 years ago from Philippines

      Anyway, thank you for the information. There's no harm in being aware.