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back to article Mobile phone users have fewer brain tumours

Mobile users have a lower risk of developing brain cancers than non-mobile users, a ten-year €19m study by the UN has shown. But the epidemiologists are doubtful about the results, which aren't alarmist enough, and have called for more funding additional research. The study by the Interphone International Study Group, which …

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That's not what the study said

It actually said that low volume usage showed a reduced likelihood of cancer, but those who had a higher usage (>30 minutes per day) showed an increased risk of brain tumours.

This isn't exactly surprising as there have been a few studies that have shown that exposure to small amounts of radiation is actually somewhat beneficial. With radiation it's about exposure time as well as amount.

A small dose every day is fine, one big dose all at once can be fatal. Everything in moderation and all that...

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Anonymous Coward

Lovely radiation

For instance, I'm quite fond of the roughly 1kW/m2 I (and my surroundings) get from the sun.

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WTF?

Luckly only about one part in a trillion of that is microwaves that penetrate the skull

IMHO

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FAIL

Sunday Times: "Heavy Mobile Users Risk Cancer"

Here's the Sunday Times' take on it: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article7127799.ece

Gotta love the way they've managed to extract a scary headline from that report. Sigh...

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Headmaster

Daily Telegraph as well

Headline from the newspaper (Sorry no link as they do not seem to think that it belongs either in their Technology or Health section - and I could not bothered looking any further for it)

"Cancer risk from using a mobile for 30 minutes a day".

Reading into the story it reports a "40% increased risk", which I supposed was taken from the statistically insignificant 1.4 ratio figure. At least it shows that Richard Alleyne (Telegraph Science Correspondent) is mathematically literate enough to work out a percentage - but obviously not enough to know what the phrase ‘statistically insignificant’ means.

His previous qualification for being the Science Correspondant was as a general reporter covering "....football riots, to the Cannes film festival to playing elephant polo in Thailand...".

Wonder if he got the job because he got a pass grade at GCSE Domestic Science ?

Icon 'cos someone need to go back there.

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Anyone who uses a cellphone for 30 minutes a day

probably deserves brain cancer.

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Boffin

Study problems

If you ask a bunch of people who have developed brain cancer about their mobile phone usage over the previous several years, they will of course tend to over-estimate. The control group, without brain cancer, may well under-estimate. The resulting bias could easily invalidate the study to the extent that it looks as if mobiles protect one against brain cancer!

Then there's the issue of dosage. Depending on *where* you use your mobile, it may be transmitting at two watts (one bar reception) or two milliwatts (four bars). It's pretty obvious to me that if there is a risk, it will be to the folks who make heavy use of their mobiles in places with bad reception. Are they able to allow for that in these studies? I doubt it.

I suspect that the mobile companies actually have the data to do a definitive study. Their location data may well even allow for reasonably accurate estimation of transmission power for each call. But put together commercial self-interest and data privacy laws, and will they hand over their data? Barring specific legislation, not a chance.

Finally, the obvious. There's no epidemic of brain cancer out there. The risk, if non-zero, is small. If you are paranoid, look at your signal-strength indicator and don't make or take calls when it's poor. Otherwise, just watch out for buses -- probably a greater risk than mobiles if you are talking on your mobile while you cross the road!

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Paris Hilton

I'm far more worried about...

... My family jewels than my brain! My phone sits in my pocket for most of the day, polling for email and other such things that a connected phone does these days. Maybe they should start researching fertility rates among phone users instead.

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Alert

What?

Denial of MMBW? ( Man Made Brainal Warming)

Whatever next.....

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Bronze badge

Health warning; epidemiology study...

It's about time the World finally understood that epidemiology studies like this are fundamentally incapable of detecting subtle health effects. There are simply too many other confounding factors that have to be corrected for. All those things about lifestyle choices, age and so on that often have their own relationship with things like mobile phone usage are just too complicated to unpick - even if we knew what all the factors are.

It's self-interested researchers (mostly interested in where their next round of funding comes from) who propogate many of these tenuous findings. As an example of the sort of nonsense that happens, then there was that well known "fact" around that red wine was positively healthy for you compared to white wine (or other alcohol). It then turned out that red wine drinkers had generally healthier lifestyles so the colour of your particular beverage and all the nonsense about tanins and the like was recognised for what it was.

Epidemiology studies are fine for things with a big influence (smoking, asbestos, silicosis and so on), but they tend to fail miserably when the effects are imperceptible That's what lays beind the majority of these (often conflicting) scare stories on diet composition.

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Bronze badge

fail miserably when the effects are imperceptible?

Err what is the difference between an effect that can't be perceived and one that doesn't exist?

The problem is considering a study which fails to find something to be a failure.

Trying to claim the largest but still statistically insignificant anomaly they found is some kind of partial success makes matters even worse.

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Go

The team need a break

They should move this team to global warming, much better chance of getting funding, then the global warming team could bring their increased call duration hockey stick curve to mobile phone brain tumour analysis and show them how to alarm people properly.

Better still would be establishing the link between all that extra mobile phone call radiation and global warming and the statistically significant probable tumour growth increase of 2x compared to a temperature of absolute zero.

When will these amateur scientists learn how to secure funding? The phones are smaller, the frequencies have changed, so the risk vectors MUST have changed and there is a strong justification for a 100 strong team to investigate these effects over the next 10 years. Shame there is no money in the government coffers.

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Boffin

Maybe mobile phones can prevent colon cancer too

It's certainly worth investigating, the next time one goes off in a meeting.

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Pint

So...

They found no statistically significant effects of mobile phone use on cancer rates, just like very other study that has been done. Those studies which found a correlation between phone use and cancer were conducted on very small groups, so have no statistical significance - if you talk to one person, who then happens to get cancer, that does not mean that 100% of people get cancer, it means your sample size is too small.

Having found no statistical effect, they now want more money to further study... what... the noise? The variation in the amounts of exactly how much nothing is going on? Surely it is now time to put this one to bed and start spending the money on something more worthwhile, like, ooh, I don't know, actual funding of cancer research. Although certain cancer types, such as breast cancer, get plenty of funding due to high-profile campaigning, there are plenty of cancer types that do not get enough funding (such as prostate). It is also worth remembering that cancer is not a single diease, but many many different diseases that manifest themselves in a similiar fashion.

Failing that, rather than pissing money up the wall, they can give it to me, and I can conduct a study into the effects of beer on my sobriety. Since there would be a small number of participants in this experiment (one), it would be necessary to repat the experiment several times in order to be assured of a valid result.

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Grenade

Remembering the past

The widow of a very good friend of mine swore that always having the mobile in a shirt pocket was what gave him his fatal chest cancer. Adamantly.

Forgetting the accidentally huge 'therapeutic' dose of radiation 10 years earlier, to the same area, that put him into intensive care with collapsed lungs, and that may have accidentally cured his first, entirely different, cancer. The hospital's mistake cured him and then killed him much much later.

But the accepted wisdom said it was the cell phone.

(The monitor xray films were so overexposed they couldn't get _any_ estimate how _much_ xrays he'd been given. But physical facts can't get in the way of psychological 'truths'. People hate technology.)

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Anonymous Coward

It's quite feasible.

However, the figures may be skewed by the fact that non-mobile users tend not to get beaten to death by irate fellow passengers on public transport, leaving more of them alive to get brain cancer in future.

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Bronze badge

Right

Or walk under buses, or drive into bridge abutments while texting.

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Anonymous Coward

not my field, but here are my 2 cents

they way I understand it, you either get cancer or you don't. But, there are things that researcher believe could cause cancer, such as smoking or the use of mobile phone.

with that in mind, doesn't this mean that the people who didn't get cancer are simple people who wouldn't have gotten it any way? And those who did get would have gotten it any way?

again, this is not my field. But wouldn't a proper test be in this form:

1- find people who *already* have cancer.

2- monitor their mobile usage.

3- is the speed, of which the cancer is spreading, the same with those guys as with those who do not use mobiles so often?

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Joke

Given the nature of cancer...

The only really valid way to test this would be with twins (whos immune systems can be assumed to be adequately similiar). You would then have to somehow cause both of them to get the same tpye of cancer at the same time, and make one use the phone and the other not. Paging Dr Mengele...

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Anonymous Coward

You rang?

I believe someone just paged me?

Yes, every single AC post on this site is done by me.

Please - just call me Josef.

Now where's that copy of Reign In Blood got to?

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Unhappy

buzz words

It's the word "radiation" that people are so affraid of. its been hyped to the point that all radiation at all levels is deemed bad, which is not a good place to start un-biased research. i've been hearing for a while that small doses of radiation may be beneficial, causing cells to repair themselves where they might not ordinarily bother. but, its all about dose, just a shame the stigma surrounding radiation hasn't allowed the research to be conducted.

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Anonymous Coward

Surely to settle this..

You just need to RANDOMLY select thousands of people (I'm thinking at least 20,000, probably more) of all kinds of mobile users, from phone-hating hippies, through grandma who uses it every now and then to people like my boss who seem to think if they aren't on their iPhone then life is incomplete..

Then have the network share their usage data. Attempt to correlate usage to cancer rates... then you have established whether heavy phone users are more likely to get cancer or not.

Then once you have that established you'd need to prove it was the phone and not just that heavy phone users are also smokers and drink petrol, so you need to show that there are no other common risk factors for these people, so the cancerous ones need to include more gym-freaks than you'd expect, people who love de-tox diets and people who live in the countryside and don't drink alcohol...

Oh wait a min, but there are so many risk factors how do you eliminate them all... Damn, looks like we'll be paying for dead end research for decades yet...

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Work in progress...

Randomly select thousands of people and have the networks share their usage data? Surely that will never happen. Oh wait... http://www.ukcosmos.org/ ... "There are now 30,642 participants registered to take part in the study."

Yes, then there are other risk factors to unpick, but at least this study isn't relying on our dodgy estimates of how long we spend on the phone.

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FAIL

I'm not an epidemiologist but

I sure like having opinions! This study is rubbish, where do these so-called "scientists" get off, highlighting the limitations of their design like every other study worth its salt does...er...

Or not changing their methodology mid-way through as flaws became apparent despite it being taught from scool onwards that moving the goal posts during a study generally makes comparisons unsound...er... yeah...why not just restart and bin years of research? No-one could criticise that.

Worst of all was highlighting future directions for research based on their results. The nerve of the guy, following scientific report writing 101 so brazenly! Blatant self-aggrandisement if you ask me, unlike when every other researcher does it who's research I happen to agree with.

Of course, the study hasn't been released to the public yet so the wider academic community haven't had a chance to comment on the actual flaws but the ones I've made up just now have got me good and mad.

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Silver badge

I don't think it's that

I think that, given the fact that the team is "rubbishing its own results", they set out to prove the cancer risk, found nothing significant, and said to themselves : "not possible, we're dopes".

Since they still had to publish something, they decided to destroy their own credibility instead of recognize that there might be no measurable effect.

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Silver badge

Call me a ranting weirdo...

...but I once recorded a mobile phone conversation using the phone on speakerphone, the recording device being a Sony Handycam (8mm analogue) being placed beside the phone. Well, you know the dur-di-dur-di-dur-di interference you sometimes get from mobiles? Imagine this in video form, the transmissions so completely screwing with the camera's innards that the resulting tape was practically useless.

You can have a hundred people tell me it is safe, but seeing what it does to the video camera, there's no way I want that sort of electrospewage next to my nugget for any longer than is strictly necessary (I wear my 6230i on my belt for an hour a day, and I speak on the phone for *minutes* in a week; the rest of the time is is turned off (aaah, peace & quiet!)).

Remember, commissioned studies once said there was no cancer risk from smoking...

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Boffin

Certainly, sir: "You're a ranting weirdo, sir"

The difference between smoking and mobile phone usage is that smoking provides a plausible physical mechanism that might account for increased cancer rates. If you fill your lungs with smoke and tar 20 times a day, it's not entirely unexpected that you might suffer an increased rate of lung disease.

There is no plausible mechanism whereby non-ionising radiation could cause an increased rate of cellular mutations of the kind that can give rise to cancer. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but if there were such a mechanism, we'd be at greater risk from radio and TV transmissions - plenty of people live within sight of masts broadcasting at megawatt levels (eg Crystal Palace).

I remember when pregnant women were being sold lead-lined aprons to make it 'safe' for them to sit in front of a VDU screen.

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Flame

Ok - you are a ranting weirdo

I hope you dont have your computer monitor turned on. I presume having your phone on the belt is some obscure form of contraception....

In fact the list of electromagentic sources you must be trying to avoid is so long it seems pointless to type it in here.

One question though - given how little you have your phone on, why bother with it? They still have payphones you know....

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Boffin

@heyrick

You're a ranting weirdo...

First, just because the rapid power cycling of a TDMA radio in your old 2G phone caused speakers and displays to pulsate, doesn't mean it has any physical effects on the body.

Second, that was the olden days. CDMA based phones (like all 3G systems) transmit constantly and so they don't cause that pulsating effect. It's so last decade.

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Silver badge

Why bother with the phone?

The monitor is an LCD panel (it is a laptop), but I've done my time sitting in front of CRTs. I don't tend to make a point of avoiding electromagnetic sources, only those that cause tangible effects in anything more important than a Long Wave radio. I've certainly not have my microwave oven interfere with the video camera, and my laptop doesn't "break into" the TV's audio when I'm using WiFi (but the familiar duh-di-duh-di used to tell me when I have a message). That was when I used to keep the phone on more. I don't now. You're right. Why do I bother with it? I don't know...

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Flame

heyrantingweirdo

Lucky your brain isn't made of magnetic tape then, eh? Pity, if it was you could restore it from a backup...

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FAIL

All together now........

You know, I had a similar experience. I heard the same noises coming out of the radio when my drill was switched on. I no longer have a drill. I also saw strange patterns on my telly when the fridge compressor motor kicked in. I no longer have a fridge. When I held my radio near my computer, there was strange hissing noises. I no longer have a computer....

Oh. Wait

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FAIL

All together now........

Image that. An electronic device producing radiated noise that is picked up by another electronic device.

Next you will be telling me that people will somehow harness that and use it transmit voices and even pictures. Good thing no-one has intented something like that yet. Imagine all that radiated noise that will be going through everyone's body all the time. We will all be dropping like flies.

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Unhappy

One can hope.....

One can only now hope it is now proved a mobile has a direct effect on sterility. With luck there is one set of ranting wierdo genes removed forever.

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A Canadian researcher says ethics guidelines skewed the results

Cellphone cancer study questionable: scientist

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=3036200

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Coat

Cancer risk from a telephone?

Where are the telephone sanitisers when you need one?

The one with the electronic sub-etha signaling device and a small towel in the pockets, thanks.

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Boffin

aaaand another thing....

Yep, so they'll keep spending your money until they PROVE that mobile phones are dangerous.

Erm, what about microwave ovens? CRT televisions? Bluetooth in cars? Military band radio? Airport radar? All the bloody benzene they shove in 'unleaded' petrol? Diesel fumes full of carbon fullerenes? Thorium from burning coal? Mercury in fish?

Why not just save a bit of cash and say 'The whole bloody planet is dangerous, you will likely die someday' and be done with it?

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Jobs Halo

On the other hand..

.. there may be an increased risk but it is swamped by the risk from other causes. If you look hard enough to find something, guess what, you will find it somewhere.

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Silver badge

Risk Rating

How about a useable risk rating? e.g. if there is a health effect of 'x' it is less than 0.1 cigarettes/month. Or 2 car-miles per year. This would stop all those idiots applying %ages to minute risks and getting silly sounding answers. Answers which not only discredit the scientists themselves, but also discredit science in the eyes of non-scientists, because the latter know, intuitively, that there is something wrong with the numbers, but are not able to determine what it is.

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