A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

News Center: Short Takes Archive

August 17, 2011

After we ran our story on De-Kun Li's study showing a higher risk of asthma among children whose mothers were exposed to we heard from Ivan Beale in Australia. Beale reminded us of a paper he published ten years ago, which points to an asthma risk among adults living near power lines.

At the time, Beale was a psychology professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. In the survey of 560 adults living near high-voltage power lines, he found that those who were more highly exposed to magnetic fields had over three times the rate of asthma than those less exposed. The numbers were small, yet the elevated risk was statistically significant. Beale did advise that this finding be interpreted with caution. We passed the paper on to Li at Kaiser Permanente. "This finding and our finding are consistent and support each other," Li said, "providing further confidence in our results."

August 11, 2011

UNC's David Richardson was a member of the IARC Working Group in May. He and Australia's Malcolm Sim offer insights into IARC's decision to classify RF as a possible carcinogen in an editorial that accompanies two papers from the Interphone project. For instance: The IARC panel took notice of an animal experiment —the "Guy study"— which showed a significant increase in RF-induced tumors, especially in the endocrine system. That finding was first announced back in 1984, and finally published in 1992. And now, 20 years later, it comes into play for the first time!

The working group also downplayed the Danish cohort study —often cited to show there are no tumor risks— due to its "considerable potential for exposure misclassification." Sim and Richardson close with a call for cell phone research to continue. The editorial and the two Interphone papers (both open accees) are in the September issue of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

August 9, 2011

The NCI Cancer Bulletin calls itself “a trusted source of cancer research news.” Maybe sometimes, but not when it comes to cell phones. In the latest issue, out today, the editors mislead their readers into thinking that the new CEFALO study shows that, according to the headline, “Mobile Phone Use Does Not Raise Cancer Risk in Children and Adolescents.” The study does no such thing.

As we reported two weeks ago, CEFALO is a mess and tells us nothing of value. One leading epidemiologist wondered aloud during a recent interview, “How did that paper ever pass peer review?” Maybe, here again, no one at the Bulletin bothered to read the published paper. More likely, they are blindly following in the footsteps of those at its sister publication, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which published the CEFALO paper together with a glowing editorial. Does everyone at the NCI believe their mission is to calm public concerns?

In the end, NCI’s unwarranted denials only breed mistrust of the cancer establishment.

August 8, 2011

We have long touted the potential for medical applications of electromagnetic signals. Now comes one we would never have imagined. Take a look.

August 2, 2011

De-Kun Li's new study, published yesterday, got quite a bit of news coverage with comments from all over. One of the most surprising, at least to us, was from David Savitz, who some 25 years ago was the first to support Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper's then still controversial finding linking magnetic fields to childhood leukemia. Here's part of what Savitz told WebMD: "[EMF] has been very, very thoroughly studied, and it really questionable whether it causes any health effects at any reasonable level." We thought we had better check with Savitz to make sure he hadn't been misquoted and to see if, as one might well infer, he had repudiated his 1988 paper. "The association with power lines has not been corroborated," he replied. He summmed up his postion on whether or not there is a link this way: "It really isn't a question of what one study or another says, but rather what the body of literature as a whole says and to me it says 'probably not, but maybe something for relatively high magnetic fields and childhood leukemia'." We wonder what Nancy Wertheimer would say.

July 29, 2011

We pose two questions about the new children’s study on cell phone tumor risks, known as CEFALO:

(1) How many of the health and science reporters who filed stories actually read the paper beyond the press release and abstract? An even cursory look at the paper would have tipped them off that there was something systematically wrong with the data. Yet, practically without exception, they all bought into the idea that the study added something new. When we interviewed Martin Röösli, one of the lead researchers, he admitted that the no-risk conclusion was based on trend data from the Swedish tumor registry, not his own study.

(2) Why didn’t John Boice and Robert Tarone point out any of the problems with the data? Surely that should have been one of their most important duties as commentators. Their editorial stands in sharp contrast to the one by Rodolfo Saracci and Jonathan Samet, which accompanied the Interphone study last year. They took their job seriously and raised important questions that the Interphone team tried to push under the rug.

July 25, 2011

David Servan-Schreiber died yesterday in France. A brain tumor survivor, Servan-Schreiber was a physician, a health advocate and the best-selling author of Anti-Cancer. He was also the moving force behind an "Appeal" for precaution in the use of mobile phones, issued in France in June 2008. The following month, Ron Herberman, then at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued a similar advisory. While Herberman's call for caution gained national attention, it was later repudiated by the Pittsburgh institute. (For more on Servan-Schreiber's life see the obits in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

July 19, 2011

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) features a two-page piece on the IARC decision in its August 3 issue. Many of the usual cast of characters (Feychting, Hardell, Moskowitz, Samet, Swerdlow, Tarone) are quoted except, surprisingly, anyone from NCI. Not a word from either Peter Inskip or Martha Linet (see June 29).
And there is this in the third paragraph of the story: "The [NCI], the American Cancer Society and other organizations were at pains to update their online information and reassure worried consumers that the [IARC] action was not based on any clinically meaningful new evidence but merely on an evaluation of the existing literature. Experts repeated the familiar mantra 'more research is needed,' even as newspaper headlines warned of the potential risk."

Is it really the NCI's job to pacify the public about uncertain risks?

July 17, 2011

More mixed messages this weekend. In an interview headlined "Cell Phones and Cancer: Is There a Connection?," Nora Volkow, while acknowledging the uncertainties in Interphone and other epidemiological studies, continues to argue that precaution is the most sensible course of action. "I would feel confident saying to parents in particular that they should educate their children to avoid using cell phones close to their ears," she says. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), made a splash earlier this year with her color brain scans showing that cell phone radiation can affect brain metabolism.
In contrast, today Siddhartha Mukherjee offers a more skeptical opinion in the Sunday New York Times. It is consistent with what he published in aTimes magazine article a few months ago. That was before the IARC decision to classify RF radiation as possibly carcinogenic —in opposition to his own outlook and, he says, that of the NCI (yet, see this item below). Mukherjee, a professor at Columbia University who won a Pulitzer prize this year, calls the difference in opinion about cell phones between IARC and other cancer agencies a semantic one because IARC's "definition of 'possibly carcinogenic' is much looser." The "split," he says, "has had the unfortunate effect of confounding the public, which now does not know which faction to believe." On that last part, we can all agree.

June 30, 2011

Danish cancer statistics do not show an elevated risk of acoustic neuroma among those who have used mobile phones for 11 years or more. That's the conclusion of a paper just posted by the American Journal of Epidemiology. Interphone acoustic neuroma results, which, sources say, does point to an increase.

The summary of the IARC's RF monograph meeting indicates that both the Interphone and Danish reports were considered by the working group.