April 5, 2022 – The decades-long debate about whether radiation from cell phones raises the risk of cancer has a new piece of evidence to chew over.
A new study from the United Kingdom has found no link between using a cell phone and developing a brain tumor.
Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the University of Oxford tracked more than 750,000 women in the U.K. for 20 years. Their findings did not show any link, even for people who use their phones every day or have used them for more than 10 years.
"These results support the accumulating evidence that mobile phone use under usual conditions does not increase brain tumor risk," said study author Kirstin Pirie, MSc, from Oxford Population Health, in statement.
Scientists have been studying this question as more and more people started using cell phones in the 1990s. In particular, because people often hold their phones next to their heads when making calls, the concern has been if this might lead to tumors in the brain, ear, or neck area.
However, the study and its conclusion have been heavily criticized by the Environmental Health Trust, a private non-profit that argues cell phones and cellular networks are inherently dangerous and a cancer risk.
“Studies that rely on outdated data are dangerous in the fact they don’t consider how people use cell phones today. Many of today’s users are on the cell phone hours a day,” Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust, said in a statement. “Wrong ages, wrong questions, wrong exposure information. “
The Environmental Health Trust says, “numerous human and animal studies have found associations between cell phone radiation and cancer” and it continues to recommend that the public, and especially children, reduce exposures to cell phone and other wireless radiation.
Concerns about a cancer risk, particularly brain tumors, have been circulating for decades, and to date, there have been some 30 epidemiologic studies on this issue.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic.” That conclusion was based largely on the results of a large international case study and a series of studies in Sweden.
In the latest study, the U.K. researchers suggest that “the totality of human evidence, from observational studies, time trends, and bioassays, suggests little or no increase in the risk of cellular telephone users developing a brain tumor.”
The study team looked at data from the ongoing UK Million Women Study to examine links between cell phone use and cancer. This study began in 1996 and involves 1 in 4 of all women in the U.K. born between 1935 and 1950. Participants are sent questionnaires at regular intervals to gather data on lifestyle practices and general health.
Questions about cell phone use were completed in 2001, when the women were 50 to 65 years old. About half of the women also answered these questions about mobile phone use 10 years later, in 2011, when they were 60 to 75.
By 2011, most of the women (75%) between the ages of 60 and 64 had used a cell phone, while just under half of those between 75 and 79 used one.
During the follow up period, 3,268 women in the study developed a brain tumor. However, the researchers did not find any link between cell phone use and the development of tumors in the brain, or in the ears, neck area, or eyes. The risk of developing a tumor was similar between women who had never used a cell phone and those who were users.
However, the researchers are cautious and point out the limitations in their findings. The study did not include children, teenagers or young adults, and only involved women who were middle-aged and older. People in this age group generally use cell phones less than younger women or men. Also, cell phone use was low in this study. Fewer than 1 in 5 women (18%) reported talking on the phone for 30 minutes or more each week.
"There is always a need for further research work, especially as phones, wireless, etc, become ubiquitous, but this study should allay many existing concerns," Malcolm Sperrin, professor at Oxford University Hospitals, who was not involved in the research, said in a statement.