Study Finds No Link Between Cell Phones and Childhood Cancer, but Hold the Phone

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A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no link between cell phone use and cancer in children, ages 7 to 19.

Swiss researchers surveyed cell phone use of 352 children and teens throughout Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland who were diagnosed with brain cancer to 646 similar youngsters who did not have tumors. About 55% of the children with brain cancer reported using cell phones regularly before their illness, compared to a similar percentage of 51% of the cancer-free kids.

Yet despite the lack of  association between cell phone use and presence of a tumor in this first study to look at the link in young children, experts caution against a false sense of safety when it comes to kids and phones. For one thing, the study was partially funded by mobile phone operators.

LIST: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Cell Phone Exposure

Concerns about cell phone use and acoustic neuromas — a type of brain tumor that has been linked to cell phones because it develops near the ear — have led to recent research in adults as well. As Bryan Walsh wrote on Healthland earlier this month:

In a new paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology researchers looked at data from more than 2.8 million Danish adults, and found that those who had used a cell phone for 11 to 15 years were no more likely than new users or non-users to develop acoustic neuromas — a kind of brain tumor that develops near the ear, where cell phones would be used.

But for children, there have been additional concerns that their smaller heads make it easier for the phones’ electromagnetic radiation to penetrate into their still-developing brains. In May 2011,  the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the World Health Organization highlighted this concern for all users when it reviewed existing studies on the link and re-classified the devices as a “possible carcinogen.”

The current study among children found remarkable symmetry between the 352 pediatric brain cancer patients and the 646 control subjects. What’s more, when they looked at where the tumors occurred, they found no increased incidence of tumors on the side of the head that children favored when holding a cell phone. But the researchers noted several caveats. First, they culled this information from self-reports of cell phone use during in-person interviews, which is notoriously unreliable. People may have trouble recalling how often they use their cell phones. Also, brain tumors may take longer than the few years covered by the study;  many youngsters likely hadn’t been regular users of their phones.

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“Brain tumors can take 10 years to form, and young children certainly have not been heavy cellphone users for very long,” Devra Davis, author of the book “Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family told Reuters, echoing the sentiment of an editorial that accompanied the study, in which a group of U.S. scientists recommended continuing more long-term studies.

Still, based on current evidence, there’s no reason for children to limit their cell phone use. When asked by Reuters how he handled cell phone use in his own family, lead author Dr. Martin Roosli of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute said: “Our study does not provide strong evidence of a relation, so why should I forbid my children from using cell phones?”