Researchers in Britain reported in August that cell phones don’t cause cancer, but their conclusion is unlikely to end arguments about whether the devices are health hazards. A recent review of the dispute in The Ergonomics Report™ ergonomicsreport.com, a subscription publication for professionals who need a deeper look at ergonomics issues, suggests the scientific community remains divided on the issue of risk.
For one thing, the British researchers leave open the possibility that their conclusion could be premature. "The results of our study suggest there is no substantial risk in the first decade after starting use," said Anthony Swerdlow of the Institute of Cancer Research in August. "Whether there are longer-term risks remains unknown, reflecting the fact that this is a relatively recent technology."
The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer and featured in Canada's CTV network and other news reports, focuses on the risk of acoustic neuroma, benign tumors that grow in the nerve connecting the ear and inner ear to the brain, close to where handsets are held. The institute's analysis pooled studies conducted in Britain, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - all countries where mobile phones became popular early.
The Ergonomics Report™ drew on a similar pool of research for its July 27 article, "Are Cell Phones Dangerous? It's Still An Open Question." Collectively, the research investigated whether electromagnetic radiation, also known as nonionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields (EMFs), from cell phones affects the body's cells, brain or immune system, and increases the risk of developing a range of diseases including cancer.
Researchers at the University Hospital in Orebo, Sweden, say Yes. In the June issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine they reported that using a cell phone in rural areas tripled the risk of malignant or benign tumors compared to urban use. Another Swedish study, published in 2002, reported a link between analog cell phones and brain tumors. Dr Christoffer Johansen and colleagues of the Danish Cancer Registry, part of the pan-European Interphone study, contradicted the 2002 Swedish findings. But Dr Johansen’s paper, published in the journal, Neurology, concludes on a more faltering note: "… we still do not know the full story. We advise all people who use a mobile phone to use a hands free set. It reduces exposure."
Dr. Stephan Braune of the University Neurology Clinic in Freiburg, Germany, reported in The Lancet medical journal in 1998 that EMFs emitted by the telephones could have adverse effects on people suffering from high blood pressure or hypertension. Nausea and headaches have also been associated with the devices.
Cell phone makers are the loudest voices on the other side of the dispute. They insist there are no adverse effects and no risk, and cite studies that support the assertion. One is a study by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, chaired by Sir William Stewart in the United Kingdom. The same doctor is leading a new study funded by the British government and industry. He has invited volunteers to participate, and plans to divide them into users who have never had symptoms and those who experience headaches after mobile phone use. The results are aimed at settling the question of the impact of cell phones on health once and for all.
Sources: CTV; The Ergonomics Report™; Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; Neurology, The Lancet