A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Cell Phones & Brain Tumors: Burying the Link

March 3, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, the University of Manchester in England issued a press release on a new paper on brain cancer trends in the U.K., under the headline, "Mobile Phone Use Not Related to Increased Brain Cancer Risk." Clear and catchy — but wrong. Frank de Vocht and two collaborators actually saw a statistically significant increase in the number of tumors of the temporal lobe between 1998 and 2007.

Though they go to great lengths to make us believe that the finding is of no importance, it's clearly on their minds. The paper cites the increase no fewer than six times in five pages of text (in the journal Bioelectromagnetics). They call the increase "small but systematic" and also concede that, if there were a response to RF radiation, it would likely be in the temporal lobe, where the cell phone deposits the most radiation. Could it be a chance finding? That's unlikely, they say, because the trend was observed among both men and women. We should note that the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, home of John Cherrie, one de Vocht's coauthors, put out its own press release with the more appropriate title, "Is Brain Cancer Related to Mobile Phone Use?"

The bottom line, according to de Vocht and Cherie and their third coauthor, Igor Burstyn of Drexel University, is that there is nothing to worry about because, even if the association were valid, it would translate to only about 31 cases among the English population of 52 million. Could this be the beginning of a long-term trend? That's not likely, they believe —and here comes perhaps the strangest part of their argument— because the most likely average latency time between exposure and the manifestation of a brain tumor is 5-10 years. Most everyone else puts the latency at 20-30 years, or at the very least more than 10 years.

Their paper closes with a call to do nothing: There's no need to invoke the precautionary principle to reduce exposures, they say. The Daily Mail, a U.K. tabloid, dutifully reported the news with the headline "Using Mobile Phones 'Does Not Increase the Risk of Cancer'."