The Grapevine

Study Linking Cell Phones To Brain Tumors Criticized For Insufficient Proof

Most of us are aware that overuse of cell phones can cause health problems such as a stiff neck, eye strain, disrupted sleep, and an increased risk of automobile accidents. But one question that is yet to find a clear answer is whether these devices can also lead to brain cancer.

A recent British study, which examined the incidence rates of glioblastoma — the most common type of malignant brain tumor — has met with criticism from experts and academics after implying cell phone use may be linked to a rise in brain tumors. The study revealed rates have nearly doubled in England between 1995 and 2015.

The paper was published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health on May 2.

"The paper itself is not about cell phones," said Alasdair Philips, lead author and a trustee of Children with Cancer UK. "It's just about this change in the tumors... but cell phones seem like really they're the most likely cause."

Philips noted the tumors are primarily "in the frontal and temporal lobe areas, by your ear and forehead," which has raised suspicion cordless phone use "may be promoting gliomas." However, he pointed out malignant brain tumors are relatively rare, which means the risk is low even if there is an association with cell phones.

Another reason may be that a noticeable rise in the ownership and usage of cell phones took place over the period of the study. Cell phones use radiofrequency waves (RF waves) to send and receive signals from cellular towers. Since people hold their phones so close to their heads, many studies have tried to understand if there is any significance to the link.

Most findings were unable to present evidence that RF waves are strong enough to directly damage the DNA or heat up the body tissues.

"The majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to radiofrequency from a cell phone and health problems," stated the Food and Drug Administration.

Due to the lack of clear evidence so far, British academics have criticized the latest published study for misleading implications based on speculation rather than strong correlation or causation. The press release, in particular, received criticism for sensationalizing the results of the study.

Dr. Lion Shahab, a senior lecturer from the University College London, stated the rise in rates of malignant brain tumors is not similar to the increase in rates of cell phone use, unlike the rising popularity of smoking which saw an exponential increase in lung cancer incidence over just a few decades.

"It is well recognized that brain cancer has been on the increase since nationwide cancer registration was implemented in 1971. The authors have presented nothing very new here," said Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Experts added there were many other factors to consider such as the increase in air travel and CT scans, which could also be sources of possibly harmful radiation.