Using a mobile phone regularly does not cause cancer, scientists conclude

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The findings lend further weight to the mounting evidence showing that mobile phones do not appear to cause serious illnesses - at least in the relatively short period in which they have become commonplace.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London said yesterday that they found no correlation between a type of brain cancer called acoustic neuroma and the number of years a patient had used a mobile phone.

Neither did they find any link between the brain cancer and the length of time someone used a cellphone, the total number of hours the phones were used or the total number of calls that were made.

A comparison of older analogue headsets with the newer digital versions also failed to establish any link between the devices and the occurrence of acoustic neuromas in the brain.

Acoustic neuromas are benign tumours that grow in the nerve connecting the ear and inner ear to the brain. They appear close to where people usually place their mobile handsets so it was an obvious choice of cancer for the scientists to investigate.

It is estimated that a billion people worldwide use mobile phones so even a small increased risk of cancer could mean that cellphones might be responsible for many thousands of extra brain tumours.

However, the scientists said that there was relatively little information on the long-term use of mobiles and they could not rule out the possibility of a risk emerging over time.

The study, published in the online journal The British Journal of Cancer, studied 678 people with acoustic neuroma and compared their use of mobile phones over a 10-year period with a group of 3,553 people who had not developed the condition.

An international team of scientists selected people in five different countries - Britain, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - to participate in the study. All the countries had established mobile phone networks relatively early and so made good places to carry out the study.

"The study suggests there is no substantial risk of this tumour in the first 10 years after starting mobile phone use. However, an increased risk after longer term use could not be ruled out," said a spokesman for the Institute of Cancer Research.

Professor Anthony Swerdlow, a senior investigator on the study at the Institute of Cancer Research, said mobile phone use was a relatively recent phenomenon and that longer-term problems may yet emerge.

"There has been public concern about whether there is a link between brain cancer risk and use of mobile phones," Professor Swerdlow said. "The results of our study suggest that there is no substantial risk in the first decade after starting use. Whether there are longer-term risks remains unknown reflecting the fact that this is a relatively recent technology," he said.

Other studies have suggested that radiation from mobile phones can cause localised heating in the brain and some epidemiological investigations have pointed to an increased risk of cancer.

Last May, a study found that people who use mobile phones regularly in rural areas are three times more likely than city dwellers to suffer from brain tumours.

Scientists believe that rural users of mobile phones receive relatively large doses of microwave radiation from their handsets to compensate for the fact that base stations in the countryside are further apart than in the city. However, a study published last year of 427 people with brain tumours found no evidence to suggest that mobile phones were responsible, although the scientists behind this study warned that further research is still needed.

Professor Peter Rigby, chief executive of the charity Cancer Research UK, said the latest study is a great step towards resolving the issue of whether mobile phones cause brain cancer. "Mobile phone have only been used widely over the past decade so we won't know the long-term effects for many years," Professor Rigby said.

Heated debate on handsets

* Studies in the mid-1980s suggested the microwave radiation from mobile phones could cause localised heating of the head, which could result in biological damage to tissues.

* Preliminary studies in Scandanavia in the late 1990s on patients with cancer suggested there could be an increased risk among mobile phone users

* More extensive studies failed to establish a link. The most recent was published last year on 1,200 people, including 427 cancer patients.

* A study this year found that people in rural areas were three times more likely than city dwellers to suffer from brain tumours. Rural users receive relatively large doses of microwave radiation from their handsets to compensate for the fact that base stations are further apart in the countryside.

* Official advice is that the balance of evidence suggests there is no risk from mobile phones but that the widespread use by children for non-essential calls should be discouraged.