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Cancer Health Center

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Report Stirs Debate on Cell Phone Safety

Environmental Working Group Warns of Health Risks; Other Experts Disagree
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 9, 2009 -- Recent scientific studies linking cell phone use with health effects such as brain cancer are showing increasing evidence of harm, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

However, other experts roundly criticized the report as a one-sided effort that focuses only on evidence linking mobile phone use with ill health effects while ignoring studies that found no ill effects.

Even so, EWG scientists say there is cause for concern. ''Recent studies are showing a 50% to 90% increased risk for two types of brain tumors -- gliomas and acoustic neuromas -- among people who have used cell phones for at least 10 years," says Jane Houlihan, EWG's senior vice president for research.

"Studies in the past few years are showing a higher risk for brain tumors," she tells WebMD, prompting the EWG to review the scientific literature and issue its report, which also urges the federal government to require that mobile phones be labeled with radiation emission, among other actions.

Still, Houlihan tells WebMD, "The science certainly isn't definitive. The question of whether cell phone use causes tumors and cancer is considered to be inconclusive."

More than 4 billion people worldwide use mobile phones, according to the report, which analyzed more than 200 peer-reviewed studies, government advisories, and industry documents.

In the review of scientific evidence, EWG scientists found recent studies linking cell phone radiation to:

  • Brain tumors, specifically gliomas and acoustic neuromas.
  • Tumors of the salivary gland. In one study, an increased risk of 50% to 60% was found among those who used cell phones the most.
  • Behavioral problems. In one study of more than 13,000 Danish children, an 80% increased risk for emotional problems and hyperactivity was found for young children who used cell phones and for those born to women who used them while pregnant.
  • Migraines and vertigo. In a study of more than 420,000 Danish adults, long-term mobile phone users were 10% to 20% more likely to be admitted to the hospital for vertigo or migraine, compared to those who used cell phone for less time.

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