Cell Phones Unlikely to Cause Brain Cancer, Experts Say
Aug. 1, 2000 (Washington) -- You don't need to put that cell phone away just yet -- at least not because of recent reports that cell phones might cause brain cancer.
While there are some indications that specific genes in the body might be affected by the prolonged exposure to radio frequencies, there is no evidence that cell phones have a direct cancer-causing effect, researchers reported Tuesday to an FDA working group.
The FDA group is meeting to determine what studies should be conducted to determine what effect, if any, cell phones might have on their users. The FDA is looking at different possible study designs because the results of past studies have been inconsistent.
But although a small number of past studies found a link between cell phones and brain cancer, it is more likely that the real effect, if any, is limited to specific genes, says Joseph Roti Roti, PhD, a research scientist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Roti Roti recently completed a study that did not find any link between cell phones and brain cancer.
Now Roti Roti, along with other researchers, speculates that these past studies showing a link probably were flawed. This is because these studies generally did not account for variations in temperature, which Roti Roti and other scientists maintain could have skewed the overall results.
A change in a person's DNA -- which is made of his genetic material -- is considered one of the best indications of cancer and that's what past studies of radio frequencies have focused on. However, James MacGregor, PhD, office director at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, confirms that temperature also can cause changes in DNA.
An analysis of these past studies shows a number did not account for this thermal affect, agrees Lou Verschaeve, PhD, a research scientist at VITO, a research institute in the Netherlands. Together, these studies suggest that radio frequencies might pose a problem, but when you look at each individual study, the results of most of them probably were due to the heating effect, he says.
Exposure to radio frequency also varies from person to person, says C.K. Chou, research scientist at Motorola, a maker of cell phones. They absorb the frequencies at different rates and, as a result, the effects on people may differ.
"When you look at all the studies, most are negative and the overall conclusion is the radio frequencies are not [dangerous to genes]," he says.
If the FDA truly wants to determine what risks cell phones pose to their users, they should be looking at the effect on individual genes, Roti Roti says. He adds there's no strong evidence radio frequencies affect individual genes, but there's even less evidence cell phones cause brain cancer, he tells WebMD.