Cancer risk not higher for babies whose moms live near cell towers

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A new study published in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) adds to a growing body of research dedicated to understanding cancer risk potentially posed by cell phone use and proximity to cell phone towers. Researchers from Imperial College London set out to determine whether mothers whose children developed conditions such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other types of cancer were more likely to have lived nearby cell phone towers than healthy children. For their analysis, researchers included 1,397 children diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 0 to 4, matched against 5,588 healthy children. They found that, the average distance from cell phone towers was the same for mothers in both groups, suggesting no correlation between proximity to cell towers and increased cancer risk.

The findings come in the middle of an ongoing debate spurred by inconclusive science over the health risks associated with cell phone radiation — and were released the same day that San Francisco’s city board of supervisors voted in favor of requiring stores that sell mobile phones to provide information about the specific amount of radiation emitted by each model they sell.

These latest findings may prove encouraging for expecting mothers, as they ultimately suggest that there is “no association between risk of cancer in young children and estimated exposures to radiofrequency from mobile phone base stations during pregnancy.” And, comparing these results to other research in the area, the team from Imperial College London echo the notion that, so far, there is no solid science to indicate a higher risk for cancer linked to cell phone radiation:

“To date, there is no convincing or consistent evidence from cellular or animal studies to suggest that exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields is associated with brain tumors or risk of other cancers.”

In fact, with regard to cell phone tower exposure specifically, writer George Johnson was so confident in the lack of risk that earlier this year he deliberately hung out in a big cluster of cell towers and recorded his total level of radiation exposure. After two full hours “basking in high-frequency electromagnetism” Johnson reported feeling no adverse effects of the exposure — other than perhaps a stronger doubt that “the growing presence of wireless communication devices can be blamed for anything worse than sporadic outbreaks of hysteria.”

Yet despite adamant perspectives on both sides of the issue, persistently inconclusive findings about the risk of cell phone radiation — including the confusing results published last month from the $24 million Interphone study — have prompted many legislators to consider taking precautions even in the absence of concrete science. As former House telecommunications subcommittee chair Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) told the Washington Post after the San Francisco vote today:

“No single study is conclusive, and ongoing research is needed to add to the body of knowledge on this important subject. I look forward to following the implementation of the San Francisco ordinance and continuing the work I began in the 1990s when I was chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, to encourage more scientific studies that advance our understanding in this vital area.”

In an accompanying editorial published in BMJ, John Bithell, an honorary research fellow at the Childhood Cancer Research Group at the University of Oxford says that while additional research in adults is worthwhile to determine true cancer risks associated with cell phone radiation — both from cell towers and hand-held mobile devices — that, based on these current findings, pregnant women should have one less thing to worry about:

“Moving away from a mast, with all its stresses and costs, cannot be justified on health grounds in the light of current evidence.”