Mobile phones do not raise risk of brain tumours, say scientists

Biggest study ever into link between handset use and cancer finds no evidence they are connected, reports Steve Connor

The largest and most detailed study yet into the health risks posed by mobile phones has failed to find a link between cellphones and brain cancer, although scientists said that they still cannot give categorical assurances that there are no risks attached to using the devices over long periods of time.

More than 10,000 people from 13 countries took part in the study, which compared mobile phone use among people with brain tumours with healthy "controls". It was the biggest such study by far, yet the researchers found no increase in the risk of getting either of two types of brain tumour – and even detected a slightly lower cancer risk among mobile phone users.

The leaders of the Interphone study, which was co-ordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said yesterday that there were severe limitations on what the research can say about the cancer risk. As a a result, they refused to give mobile phones a clear bill of health, despite being unable to produce any evidence suggesting that the devices can cause brain tumours.

"It is impossible to say there is no risk whatsoever [but] the study has not shown a raised risk of brain tumours and it has certainly not shown that mobile phones cause brain tumours," said Professor Anthony Swerdlow of the Institute of Cancer Research in Britain, one of the study's main authors.

"The balance of evidence from this study, and in the previously existing scientific literature, does not suggest a causal link between mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours. The duration of phone use for which we have evidence is currently limited, however, and we have virtually no information for use of mobile phones for longer than 15 years," Professor Swerdlow said.

The study, which collated data from a number of smaller studies in each of the 13 countries, compared the mobile-phone usage among about 5,000 brain-cancer patients aged between 30 and 59 who were suffering from either glioma or meningioma [tumours], with mobile-phone usage among a similar number of healthy adults who acted as the controls. No children took part in the study.

This type of "case-control" study relied on interviews with the participants to assess how often they used their mobile phones over a period of up to 10 years previously, which could have introduced some memory bias into the findings. For instance, some of the cancer patients reported that they had used their mobile phones for more than 12 hours a day every day of the year, a heavy usage not reported by the healthy controls.

The scientists thought that this high level of phone use was unlikely and suggested that the memories of some of the patients may have been affected by their medical condition. This is just one of the inherent problems of case-control studies, which have nevertheless proved invaluable in establishing the causes of other types of cancer, such as lung cancer and smoking, the researchers said.

When the scientists looked at the cumulative use of mobile phones they failed to find any incremental increase in cancer risk, which would normally be found if there had been a cause-and-effect relation. However, they did find a statistically significant increased risk of glioma in just the top 10 per cent of heavy users – a finding they put down to the possibility of reporting bias.

"Overall, this research has not shown evidence of an increased risk of developing a glioma or meningioma brain tumour as a result of using a mobile phone," said Professor Patricia McKinney of Leeds University, another lead author of the study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. "This is consistent with published biological studies, which have not established any effect of exposure to radiation from mobile phones at a cellular level, nor found a mechanism by which cancer could be caused," Professor McKinney said.

The radio waves produced by mobile phones are non-ionising, unlike ionising X-rays which are known to cause cancer. They are also not strong enough to damage DNA molecules, in contrast to UV light which is also known to induce cancer. This is why there is no known mechanism according to which mobile phone radiation can cause brain tumours.

Most studies investigating the the health risks of mobile phones have failed to establish a link between the use of the devices and brain tumours. However, a smaller study in Sweden five years ago did find a statistically significant association, but Professor Swerdlow dismissed this as one "outlier" study that bucked the trend.

"The results of our study do not get close to establishing causality. It has not shown a raised risk of brain tumours and it has certainly not shown that mobile phones cause brain tumours," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us