Mobile phones do not cause brain cancer

Cancer Council NSW holds the position that there is currently no compelling scientific evidence suggesting that the use of mobile phones is associated with an increased risk of brain cancer.

In early 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted a review of all published scientific literature concerning the risks associated with radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted from mobile phones. IARC is a part of the World Health Organization which convenes international expert working groups to evaluate the evidence of the carcinogenicity (cancer causing properties) of specific exposures. The review found limited evidence for any link between mobile phones and the specific types of brain cancer known as glioma and acoustic neuroma. This means that there may be an association between exposure to mobile phones and glioma or acoustic neuroma, but that the research conducted in this area is not rigorous enough to rule out other potential explanations for the findings, including chance. The review also noted that the evidence on this issue continues to accumulate.

The INTERPHONE study (completed in February 2012), endorsed by IARC and considered the most important study on mobile phone use and cancer risk, reported that mobile phone use does not increase the risk of the most common forms of brain tumours, that is, gliomas and meningioma. This large international study showed no evidence of increasing risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call durations, or years since beginning mobile phone use. A second, large population-based study in Denmark (published October 2011) also found no evidence of increased risk of brain tumours with mobile phone use. In addition, a review conducted by a Norwegian Expert Committee (published September 2012) also found no evidence of an association between mobile phone use and fast growing brain tumours.

Most recently, the results of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, a 10 year, £13.6 million research programme jointly funded by the UK government and the telecommunications industry, found no evidence to suggest that mothers living near mobile phone and wireless communication base stations during pregnancy had a greater risk of developing cancer than those who lived elsewhere.  Nor did the study find any evidence to suggest an association between mobile phone use and increased risk of childhood leukaemia.

As the American Cancer Society states, several dozen studies have looked at the possible links between mobile phone use and tumours. These studies have consistently found that there is no increased incidence of brain tumours in mobile phone users compared to non-mobile phone users; that there is little evidence of risk of brain tumour being higher with increasing mobile phone use; and that most studies do not show that brain tumours occur more often on the side of the head where people hold their mobile phone. The few studies that have found a possible link have all been conducted by the same research group and have not been replicated by other scientists.

Theoretically, children are at greater potential risk than adults for developing brain cancer related to mobile phone use, as they are still developing physically and therefore may be more vulnerable to factors that may lead to cancer. To date, however, the evidence from studies on mobile phone use in children does not support this theory. The first published evidence comes from a large European study called CEFALO, which included children aged 7 to 19, who were diagnosed with brain tumours. The study did not find an association between mobile phone use and brain tumour risk in this group of children.

Children were not included as participants in the INTERPHONE study. To address this gap in the scientific literature, researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Spain are conducting another international study, known as MobiKids, to investigate the risk of brain tumours associated with mobile phone use among children and adolescents.

All such evidence, along with the fact that the number of Australians who either develop or die from brain cancer has not changed since the introduction of mobile phones in our country, form the basis of the Cancer Council NSW position on the use of mobile phones and the risk of brain cancer. Cancer Council NSW agrees with IARC, the National Cancer InstituteAmerican Cancer Society, and Canadian Cancer Society recommendations for continued monitoring of both brain cancer trends and new evidence from studies in humans and laboratory animals.

Given the public debate around mobile phone use and cancer risk, it is understandable that some people have concerns about mobile phones. If you are concerned about potential harm from mobile phones, you may choose not to use a mobile phone, use a headset, limit the time you spend on your mobile phone or consider texting rather than calling. Additionally, you could consider limiting your child’s mobile phone use.