Mobile phones hit the headlines again this week as a US cancer researcher recommended that staff should limit their use of their phones because of the potential cancer risk. It’s a controversial issue that has been fuelled by constant see-sawing media stories about studies that find a link and others that do not.
Let’s take a look at what we already know about mobile phones and cancer.
The bigger picture
The main issue is that there is still no strong evidence to suggest that mobile phones pose a cancer risk.
Their use has skyrocketed since the 1980s but during this time, the numbers of people with brain cancer has not changed very much.
Several studies have directly looked at the risk of cancer in mobile phone users, and overall, the evidence from these suggests that mobile phones do not cause any type of cancer, including brain cancers and leukaemia.
The largest study so far, which looked at over 420,000 people, found that even people who had used mobiles for 10 years did not have increased risks.
While some studies have linked mobile phones to cancer, almost all of these have come from a minority of research groups, whose methods have been criticised by other scientists, not least for the practice of publishing the results of the same study in multiple journals. Recently, the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority concluded that “bias and chance are the most likely explanations for their findings.”
A few studies have found that people with brain cancer are more likely to develop the disease on the side of the head that they hold their phone to, even though overall, they found no link between phone use and cancer. That’s a puzzling result and it’s most likely down to chance or inaccuracies. If phones were really increasing the risk of brain cancer on one side of the head, you would still expect to see this danger reflected in the overall result.
The problem is that many of these studies ask people with cancer to remember how they used their phones, often many years ago. Their memories may be biased if they had previously heard about a connection between phones and cancer in the media.
And most importantly, so far no one has been able to consistently agree on how mobile phones could cause cancer, and that’s been a big blow for the argument that they pose a risk. Sure, the phone gives off microwave radiation, but it has millions of times less energy than, say, an X-ray and is not powerful enough to damage our DNA. Nor is the heating effect of this radiation large enough to affect our bodies. Other suggestions have been put forward, but none are backed by consistent evidence.
The bottom line
Recently, a report from the Mobile Telecommunications & Health Research Programme, which looked at all the available evidence, came to the same conclusions. It said that:
- Mobile phones aren’t linked to any negative health effects.
- Short-term mobile phone use does not cause brain cancer, and does not affect brain function.
- There is no evidence that the symptoms experienced by people who suffer from ‘electrical hypersensitivity’ are the result of exposure to mobiles or base stations.
- There is no evidence that mobiles could affect our cells beyond heating them.
- The effects of exposures of 10 years or more is unclear and deserves more research.
The last point is a valid one. Mobile phones are still a young technology. Studies suggest that using them for 10 years or less is safe, but only further research can tell us about longer-term effects.
For the moment, the only health risk that has been conclusively linked to mobile phones is a higher risk of driving accidents. People who use mobile phones while driving, even with a hands-free kit, are easily distracted and are four times more likely to be involved in an accident.
UPDATE: It has come to our attention that our main website mentions precautions that people can take if they are concerned about mobile phones, while this blog post does not. In light of that, here’s what we say over on our main Healthy Living site, for people who want to take action while new research is being carried out.
“Until we get a conclusive answer, the Government recommends some precautions for people who have concerns. For example, adults using mobile phones could minimise their exposure by keeping calls short. And children under the age of 16 should only use mobile phones for essential calls.
You can read the Government recommendations in full at the NHS website.”
Ingrid June 30, 2010
Well Tony, don’t speak too soon! Cancer takes `years’ to develop. Just keep your fingers crossed that by the time all of you teenagers feel the effects in a few years time, we will have a cure for cancer, which is likely to become a pandemic! Then you might regret your comments
Tony Parkin June 30, 2010
i am a 15yr old boy using a mobile daily for texts and calls lasting at least 1hr and i do not think that the risks are high enough to be a serious risk wheni need my phone everyday
Henry Scowcroft December 18, 2009
Ingrid, my comments re. ionising and non-ionising radiation were directed at Ami, who commented directly before you.
Ingrid December 17, 2009
Henry, please don’t be so patronising! I KNOW that there is a difference between ionising and non-ionising radiation and by now I think that everyone understands this. What I don’t understand is that you didn’t get my drift or you didn’t want to( which seems more likely). I was questioning the `transparency’ of statements made by the government,the HPA and its `advisors’, surrounding this issue of `radiation’, hence my reference to the NRPB ignoring early warnings against damage to the unborn child from X-Rays.
Ionising radiation is classed as a pollutant, yet non-ionising radiation is not, although there is plenty of research which refutes this, for exampample 1 500 Russian studies since the 1960s, all translated and summarised by Prof.Dr.Karl Hecht, who has now been appointed to monitor the health of the Russian Astronauts for the next Mars mission. This may account for the fact that the Russian Radiation Protection Board, unlike its British counterpart, publicises far more stringent warnings regarding the effect of `NON IONISING’ radiation.
Below the translated Interview with the Radiologist Professor Dr.Heyo Eckel from the Bundesärztekammer (equivalent to the BMA , copied from the archived hese-uk pages at http://www.bemri.org
The interview given below was published by the Schwabischen Post on 7 December 2006.
In Hüttlingen, a community near to Ellwangen, the residents are, just as in other places, fighting against a planned mobile telecommunications transmitter.
Dr-Ing. Frank Ermisch Diplom-Physiker, Ellwangen
The cell nucleus is mutating
Professor Dr Heyo Eckel is a radiation expert. He is a radiologist, lecturer at Göttingen University, vice chairman of the Health and Environment Committee of the German Medical Association [Ausschusses Gesundheit und Umwelt der Bundesärztekammer], Chairman of the Niedersachsen province charity Children of Chernobyl. And because he also still has family connections in Hüttlingen, we spoke with him about electromagnetic radiation.
by Markus Lehmann Hüttlingen/Göttingen
“For radiologists there are two areas: the scientific-formal-legal and the emotional.
His scientific conclusion: electromagnetic, pulsed waves from transmitter masts and mobile phones affect and deform the cell nucleus. The effects are comparable with those of X-rays. As long as the harmlessness of mobile telecommunications is not proven, everything must be done to protect the population against potential health damage.
Are electromagnetic waves dangerous for humans?
These waves deform and damage the cell nucleus. That is proven and has resulted in experiments ‘in vitro’ (in laboratory studies). The cell nucleus can also mutate as a result of natural occurrences. However, one has no control over that. But changes due to the influence from electromagnetic waves are definitely documented.
And this technology is deployed across the country?
According to the present state of scientific knowledge there is no alarming health risk. Out of the many thousand of reports, there are only 400 to 500, which comply with purely scientific protocol and thus must be taken seriously. But one must consider: the mobile telecommunications technology is still relatively new, but yet it is now deployed across the whole country. Consequential damage is hard to ascertain, not yet and maybe only after years. Like in bygone days with X-Ray radiation.
You are also involved in the Tschernobyl problem …
Yes. And the injuries that result from radioactive radiation are identical with the effects of electromagnetic radiation. The damages are so similar that they are hard to differentiate.
So you are saying, that there is a potential or suspected danger. What is your suggestion?
One must act politically. The politicians refer constantly to safe limits. There must be an agreement with the industry on a minimum distance from base stations, as in Switzerland. Above all there must be further research on how these electromagnetic waves effect humans. This radiation does not taste, it does not smell. And one does not hear it. It is not discernable through our senses. And, that’s why people are afraid of it.
What do you advise citizens who have fears about a transmitter in their vicinity?
Legally, one cannot do much. One can advise, that people unite together. In order to exert pressure – moral pressure – on the local politicians, the provincial and federal government politicians. Because they have a duty of care to avert presumed or perceived damage to citizens.”
I hope that this explains my position on `non-ionising’ radiation and clears up any misconception that I don’t understand the subject dear Henry.
Henry Scowcroft December 16, 2009
Ami – like Merlin above you’ve confused “ionising” and “non-ionising” radiation. As we said earlier:
On your second point – we absolutely agree that evidence might emerge over time – several studies are now running to answer these questions. In the mean time we believe, as stated earlier, the current precautionary stance is sufficient given the existing evidence.
Ingrid December 16, 2009
Could someone please set the record straight here! Is Prof. Anthony Swerdlow, a Cancer specialist advising the HPA on such matters as `”LACK OF EVIDENCE” of mobile phone use and the development of cancer ALSO a member of ICNIRP and chair of the
Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) to the government ??
Is it `ethical’ for someone in his `position’ to wear three different hats?
Could one expect a member of ICNIRP to give contrary advise regarding the connection between microwave communication and cancer?? We all know that ICNIRP insists on `no link’. There are plenty of eminent cancer specialists worldwide who take an entirely different view!
The SAGE group for example, a working group looking at the `precautionary’ approach to EMF exposure from overhead powerlines was set up and funded partly by the Dept. of Health and Children with Leukaemia. They met over 3 years discussing this issue and came up with the recommendation that magnetic field exposure above 0.4 microTesla could double the risk of childhood leukaemia and other conditions. ICNIRP’s safety limit is 100 microTesla. SPOT THE DIFFERENCE! And guess what: The government threw out SAGE’s recommendations. I wonder why! If those recommendations had been implemented, it would have put `all’ ICNIRP guidance in question.
So was the SAGE process a mere paper exercise and talking shop to pretend that this matter was being seriously considered?? Whilst other countries are taking this particular EMF issue far more seriously, the UK is lacking behind and is still placing brandnew building only meters away from high voltage power lines.
Not many people know that the UK was the last country to stop the X Ray of pregnant women on the advise of the NRPB, now appearing under the new heading HPA. Can we rely on the government and its agents to protect us? I think NOT.
Here is info about Prof.Swerdlow on the internet:
Anthony Swerdlow was educated in medicine at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. After junior posts in clinical medicine, epidemiology and public health in the Oxford region and London, he worked in epidemiology at the University of Glasgow and at the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys before moving to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1987 and then to the Institute of Cancer Research in 2000. He is currently Professor and Head of the Section of Epidemiology and Director of the Department of Health Cancer Screening Evaluation Unit at the Institute, and Honorary Consultant in Epidemiology at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
His research is in chronic disease epidemiology, mainly on cancer but also on other diseases including type 1 diabetes and CJD. His research interests have for many years included non-ionising radiation and he is currently a member of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and its Epidemiology Standing Committee. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was a member of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones.
Ami December 16, 2009
Yo, all this information is very confusing. Over a certain amount of years wouldn’t the radiation from mobile phones eventually cause cancer? I mean, after all, radiation is dangerous even in small quantities.
I reckon that over time the radiation from mobile phones will start to show it’s effects. Also this can also depend on how often you use your mobile phone? And I have heard that leaving your mobile phone on at night can be dangerous too. These are still early days and people will continue using mobile phones for years to come, so how can you be sure that mobile phones wont have any link to cancer in the future?
Eileen OConnor December 15, 2009
A new Post “#1175:San Francisco law would require cell phone warnings” was written on the December 15, 2009 at 10:08 pm on “EMFacts Consultancy”.
From Mona Nilsson:
Law would require cell phone warnings
By: Katie Worth
Examiner Staff Writer
December 15, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Every cell phone sold in San Francisco could soon come with a label detailing the level of radiation you will be exposed to by using it and recommending a headset to avoid radiation exposure.
If a proposal endorsed Monday by the Commission on the Environment’s policy committee — and preliminarily supported by the mayor — moves forward, not only would consumers be alerted of potential risks of cell phone radiation, but it could become illegal to promote the devices in public schools, and the federal government would be officially called upon to change their standards for cell phones.
The committee’s 3-0 vote came in response to some scientific studies that suggest cell phone radiation can, over long periods of time, cause brain tumors on the side of the brain where the phone is held, and men who carry cell phones in their pocket may experience lower sperm counts.
Other recommendations made by the committee Monday were that The City purchase cell phones emitting the lowest possible radiation; that the school district educate students and parents about cell phone radiation; and the federal and state governments consider banning cell phone advertising aimed at children, who may be more vulnerable to any health risks associated with mobile phones.
The committee initially considered requiring cell phone merchants to provide a headset with any cell phone, but backed off on that requirement for now. It instead directed The City to “explore ways to encourage” the cell phone industry to provide headsets.
The proposal still must be endorsed by the Commission on the Environment, and then approved by the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. However, Mayor Gavin Newsom supports the idea in concept, mayoral spokesman Joe Arellano said.
“Mayor Newsom believes that cell phone radiation labeling is the next frontier in terms of consumer safety,” Arellano said. “He believes this step will allow The City to take a lead role in the United States in promoting labeling for cell phones at the point of purchase.”
In fact, Maine may beat San Francisco to the punch. That state’s legislature is considering a bill that would require a warning label on cell phones advising children and pregnant women to keep the devices away from their heads and bodies.
Monday’s meeting was attended by Ellie Marks of Lafayette, who helped advocate for Maine’s bill after her husband developed a large tumor on the side of his brain where he holds his cell phone. She said they are convinced his extensive cell phone use over 20 years caused the tumor. She said he used the phone so much she often threatened to throw it away.
“And how I wish I had,” she said. “I’m angry because this horror could have been avoided.”
A Commission on the Environment committee is proposing all cell phones sold in The City be accompanied by labels detailing radiation levels.
Possible effects of cell phone usage
– Brain tumors
– Lowered sperm count
– City purchase cell phones emitting lowest possible radiation
– Schools educate students and parents about cell phone radiation
– Federal and state governments restrict cell phone advertising aimed at kids
Source: Commission on the Environment policy committee
Devra Davis December 4, 2009
Cell Phones and Brain Cancer—the jury is still out
According to headlines trumpeted around the world, cell phones are safe. This reassuring conclusion rests on an analysis of trends in brain cancer in Scandinavian countries up to 2003 which did NOT tie these trends in any way to actual patterns of use of cell phones.
In fact, in Sweden, Norway and Finland, about half of all persons had cell phones in 2000. It would be unreasonable to expect to see any general population effect from such phone use in such a short period of time. Scientists know that brain cancer can take a decade or longer to develop in adults. In the case of the Hiroshima bombing that ended World War Two, brain cancers associated with that one time massive exposure to radiation did not become evident until forty years later.
The authors of this work published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute this week actually are much more balanced than the headline writers. We all recognize the tremendous positive role that phones are playing around the world today. But, their safety, and their impact on the developing brain, remains a matter of grave concern that merits serious research and will not be resolved by spinning limited studies such as this one.
The authors of this analysis of brain cancer in adults in Northern Europe note that their findings could simply mean that their study did not follow people for long enough period of time and that their study did not determine or focus on those individuals who had used cell phones the most for the longest, especially young adults. Instead, their analysis solely reported on the trend in this one site of cancer.
A number of researchers who have looked at more detailed studies on brain cancer and cell phone use have reached far different conclusions. Only after 10 or more years of very heavy mobile phone use does a risk of brain cancer become evident. Prof. Lennart Hardell of Sweden has found that those who begin using cell phones heavily as teenagers have 4 to 5 times more brain cancer as young adults. In this recent study of the entire population, very few persons are likely to have been heavy users of cell phones for more than a decade and even fewer will have done so since adolescence.
Given the limited networks available at the time that this Scandinavian study began, and the high cost of earlier phones, proportionally few people have been heavy users for a long period of time. To conclude that the absence of a clear trend of increased brain tumors in Scandinavia means that there will be no such trend in the future is wishful thinking that endangers all of us.
In the meantime, it is important to take precautions such as those urged by Sir William Stewart and ensure that children not use cell phones excepting for emergencies. And it is critical that research proceed to clarify relevant health issues associated with this rapidly expanding technology
Recent studies by scientists in many different nations have found that radiofrequency signals can directly damage DNA without producing any noticeable change in temperature, and can produce cancer-inducing free radicals, proteins known to be tied with mutation, and memory loss in both animals and humans. (see http://www.environmentalhealthtrust.org for more details) Given the dramatic increase in mobile phone use in the past few years, it is foolish to assume that their safety has been established. The technologies are changing rapidly. We need a major international research program to evaluate their impact on health, especially how they affect the brain of the young.
Israel, France, China, Russia, Finland, Scotland, the U.K., and the European Commission have all issued various warnings to limit the use of cell phones by children. The brain of a child doubles in the first two years of life and is not fully mature and protected until the early twenties.
Four billion people today are using cell phones and many of them are under the age of twenty. In truth the jury is out on the long term impacts of cell phones on our health. There is no scientific basis to conclude otherwise.
Ed Yong November 26, 2009
Your paper reviews the same set of research that we’ve already discussed and analysed on this blog and in the comments. Our position on mobile phones and cancer remains the same. It is clear that all research in this area has flaws, but we see no strong reasons to go beyond the Government’s current precautionary stance.
Eileen OConnor November 25, 2009
I’m still waiting to receive a reply from Cancer Research with regards to the following paper, sent on 25th August, its now 25th November????
“Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone”.
Eileen OConnor August 26, 2009
Please see enclosed very important new report on cellphones and brian tumours.The report has been endorsed by leading scientists and physicians worldwide, including Ronald Herberman, MD, Director Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Martin Blank,PhD of Columbia University (www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6wLFeIrCtU) and David Carpenter, MD, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany. It was also released to the media, globally, as well as to the U.S. Congress.
Could Cancer Research UK please read the report in full and report back?
25th August, 2009, Coldfield, West Midlands, UK. Radiation Research Trust, a UK-based charity focused on the health effects of electromagnetic fields from wireless technologies, today released a report called, “Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone,” along with other international health advocacy groups on two continents the report was released by a collaborative group of International EMF activists. Groups affiliated with the report include Powerwatch and the Radiation Research Trust in the U.K and in the U.S., EMR Policy Institute, ElectromagneticHealth.org and The Peoples Initiative Foundation.
Download the new report from the Radiation Research Trust: http://www.radiationresearch.org/pdfs/15reasons.asp
View the You Tube Introduction to the report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwjC_OUIo8I
The new report analyses the science on cellphones and brain tumours, and reviews in detail 11 key design flaws in the 13-country, industry funded Interphone Study, which underestimates risk of brain tumours.
Eileen O’Connor, Director of Radiation Research Trust, says, “It is time for government and industry to stop the denial about the health effects of microwave radiation and do what is right to protect public health”. Andrew Mitchell MP, Trustee of Radiation Research Trust and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, says, “I welcome the scientific debate about cell phones and brain tumours and a serious discussion of any design flaws of the Interphone study.”
Pressure has been mounting on governments around the world to protect children from cell phone radiation. Russian officials have recommended children under the age of 18 years not use cell phones at all. Similarly, the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, Germany and India have discouraged use of cell phones by children. In Finland, the Radiation and Nuclear Power Authority has urged parents to err on the side of caution. France is nearing the point where it will make it illegal to market cell phones to children, and recently banned mobile phones in elementary schools.
Radiation emitted from wireless technologies has been shown in scientific research to show leakage of the blood-brain-barrier, and deleterious effects on sperm, including decreased sperm counts and reduced sperm motility, among many other biological effects. Studies independent of industry, consistently show there is a “significant” risk of brain tumours from mobile phone use.
Recently, in Austria, The Austrian Social Insurance for Occupational Risk (AUVA) commissioned Vienna Medical University to research the effects of cell phone radiation on the brain, immune system, and proteins. The AUVA studies have further confirmed the existence of non-thermal effects from mobile phone radiation, reinforcing the need for governments to adjust exposure guidelines.
Brian Stein, Chairman of Radiation Research Trust, and CEO of food giant, Samworth Brothers, adds “Responsible action on the part of governments is urgently required to protect future generations.”
The UK Radiation Research Trust (RRT) is a leading health advocacy organization mobilizing supporters and advocating for a precautionary approach to electromagnetic radiation and government warnings regarding wireless technologies. Its purpose is to uncover and communicate the true facts concerning electromagnetic radiation and health.
Contact: USA – Lloyd Morgan
Tel.510 841 4362
E-Mail: [email protected]
UK – Alasdair Philips
Tel. 01353 778422
E-Mail [email protected]
Director, Radiation Research Trust
E-Mail: [email protected]
Henry Scowcroft August 11, 2009
Ingrid points out that the Li Ka Shing Foundation helps fund several Cancer Research UK institutes and researchers. We are enormously grateful for the continued support of trusts, foundations and of course our corporate supporters, without whom we could not fund much of our life-saving work.
However, we’re keen to stress that all the research carried out in these establishments and by these scientists is – as it should be – completely independent, and regularly peer-reviewed by international experts.
We’d also like to point out that only a small proportion of our income comes from such sources – the vast majority of our fundraising comes from the thousands of individual supporters who give up their time and effort to fund our work.
You can read more about how our income is raised, and download our Annual Review – which contains full details of our funding sources – on our ‘About Us’ website.
Andrew Goldsworthy August 11, 2009
I guess many people will be interested to see if mobile/cordless phone use might be a contributing factor to the range of recently reported oral cancers. It would be reassuring (or otherwise) to know if there were any relationship between the side of the head having the cancer and the side normally used for the telephone.
You must have records of the side with the cancer, and you could find out the side normally used for the phone by calling surviving patients on their mobiles and asking them which hand they were holding the phone. It would also be useful to ask them on which side they normally use a cordless phone (they are not necessarily the same). In so far as many people spend more time on their cordless phone than on their (more expensive) mobile connection, this is an extremely important question.
I hope you will be able to follow this up and publish the results.
Ingrid August 7, 2009
The following is taken from the Li Ka-shing Foundation website and states `clearly’ that the mobile phone industry has a huge `financial’ stake of
GBP 16.5 million in cancer research! ENOUGH SAID! The phrase : ” Do not bite the hand that feeds you” springs to mind.I find the leading sentence, and in particular the word `responsibility’ very ironic.
7 Aug 2009 Fri
Contents by Topic
“I believe in freedom as I believe in responsibility.”
Li Ka-shing Main > Projects > Healthcare >University of Cambridge
1. Hutchison/ MRC Research Center
Established with a donation of GBP 5.3 million (US$10.5 million) from Hutchison Whampoa and in collaboration with the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK, the Center is located on the new island site at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, with a gross floor area of 4,000 sq. m. The new building opened in 2002 and is comprised of an MRC Cellular and Molecular Biology Unit and the Hutchison Cancer Research Unit, which is staffed by specialists from the University and will promote ways of applying fundamental research to the clinical treatment of patients. It is hoped that the establishment of this Research Center will help take full advantage of the University’s resources both in its biomedical departments and in the Clinical School and result in a breakthrough in cancer research.
2. The Li Ka Shing Center
Established in 2007 with a GBP 16.5 million (US$32.6 million) donation from Hutchison Whampoa and in collaboration with the internationally renowned Cancer Research UK, and the University of Cambridge, the Li Ka Shing Center boasts a gross floor area of 14,000 sq.m. and houses the new Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute. Its aim is to bring together some of the best researchers and medical professionals of Cambridge University and Cancer Research UK to create a center for basic and applied cancer research that should be unparalleled.
More than 300 scientists in 20 research groups will be based at the Institute. The Director of the Center is Professor Bruce Ponder, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and a leading cancer researcher who is also joint head of the HWL/MRC Research Center, which opened in 2002. Professor Ponder’s research covers the genetics of breast cancer.
3. Li Ka Shing Professorship of Oncology
To reinforce the University of Cambridge’s position at the forefront of cancer research, the Foundation has established a Professorship of Oncology at the University. The first holder of the Chair is Professor Bruce Ponder, who will oversee research on the epidemiology of cancer at the Strangeways Research Laboratory; translational clinical research in Addenbrooke’s Hospital; cellular and molecular studies in the Hutchison/MRC Research Centre; and a range of research groups in the new Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute.
4. Biomedical Computing Research
Modern wireless technology makes it possible for medical professionals to receive high quality clinical information at the point of care.
walter May 25, 2009
Ed, I have two major concerns about the information on this CRUK page.
1) In attempting to answer/dismiss the concerns about mobile health effects, you are seriously misrepresenting them in your responses about heat, power and energy when the concerns are specifically ‘biological’.
2) You endorse and link almost exclusively to official sources, even when they have glaring omissions, and when they ignore the concerns expressed.
1) Misrepresenting the concerns. You say
“And most importantly, so far no one has been able to suggest how mobile phones could cause cancer, and that’s been a big blow for the argument that they pose a risk.”
This statement is VERY wide of the mark. Many scientists have suggested plausible mechanisms supported by substantial research.
For example, you now acknowledge (in a post further down) the melatonin ‘hypotheses’, and you rather grudgingly accept what you call ‘small effects’ from oxidative stress (free radicals etc, that are linked to cancer). In addition, many papers HAVE reported DNA damage from mechanisms that are unrelated to heat and energy levels.
I would therefore have hoped that CRUK would have been more measured when discussing evidence. What you describe as a “big blow” (i.e. the absence of plausible mechanisms) does not even exist. It is disappointing that you appear to wish to make opponents appear foolish or ignorant rather than put their actual case.
You continue to maintain the misleading stance that the concerns are based on thermal effects related to the level of power. Despite it’s irrelevance to the debate, you hammer away at this straw man:
“Sure, the phone gives off microwave radiation, but it has millions of times less energy than, say, an X-ray and is not powerful enough to damage our DNA. Nor is the heating effect of this radiation large enough to affect our bodies.”
To re-iterate, the concerns are NOT based on energy/heating effects – but on indirect mechanisms like melatonin reduction, oxidative stress and indirect damage to DNA and its repair mechanisms.
2) Sources. Virtually all the sources that you quote are official bodies who, along with their colleagues in the industry, will bear a heavy responsibility should the proliferation of mobiles and radiofrequency devices emerge as the public health disaster that many predict. You would hardly expect them to be independent, or the first to acknowledge the evidence. The WHO, for example, do not even reply to people who point out that they are ignoring all of the peer-review studies report adverse effects from base stations (see post below). The MTHR report that you endorse calls (unbelievably) for research into mobile effects on cells to be discontinued.
Talking of whom, you say
“The bottom line Recently, a report from the Mobile Telecommunications & Health Research Programme which looked at all [sic] the available evidence, came to the same conclusions”
All the evidence? I don’t think so. I looked this report up from your link, and there is NOTHING about oxidative stress/free radicals, melatonin, or DNA damage. (Or the blood-brain barrier for that matter.)
It’s not surprising that an industry-based group might wish to duck the important avenues of concern.
However, I would have thought that, rather than unquestioningly promoting this report, Cancer Research UK would be asking why it ignored such a substantial body of evidence that relates mobiles and EMF to these important CANCER-RELATED effects.
PL Hayes May 26, 2009
“I would therefore have hoped that CRUK would have been more measured”
There is nothing wrong with Ed’s excellent summary and responses whereas you and one or two others here have, ironically, painted a grossly unmeasured and misleading picture with misrepresentation, exaggeration, unsupported assertion etc.
Here’s another very good overview of the subject by the EC’s SCENIHR committee who have also looked at /all/ the evidence and considered /all/ reasonable concerns and plausible mechanisms.
Martin Weatherall May 12, 2009
Yes they do cause cancer.
After I became ill and developed prostate cancer I researched the situation extensively. I discovered many links to cell phones and microwave radiation causing cancer and many other illnesses. What people need to realize is that cell phones emit strong levels of microwave radiation. The health effects of microwave radiation have been known since the second world war when this radiation was used in radar devices. Many of the people working on the radar units were exposed to microwave radiation and developed serious illnesses and much higher rates of cancer. More recent scientific research near to cell phone antennas, has shown considerably higher rates of cancer and other illnesses the closer people lived to the antennas.
When looking at the health harm caused by cell phones, you will get a much better picture if you look at the health effects of microwave radiation, because it has been researched longer than cell phones.
Andrew Goldsworthy May 12, 2009
I am a retired lecturer in Biology from Imperial College London.
There is no doubt that prolonged exposure to mobile phone radiation does cause DNA damage in some cell lines. We cannot expect all cell lines to behave in the same way because of natural biological variability. We are all the products of thousands of genes that interact in countless ways so that each one of us is both physically and biochemically unique. We do not all get the same side effects from taking a medicinal drug and we cannot therefore expect to respond in the same way to electromagnetic insults.
Also, it is not a valid argument to say that because we do not understand the mechanism by which the DNA damage occurs, then it cannot happen. However, if you want a plausible mechanism visit http://tinyurl.com/5ru6e6 . In essence it says that the loss of structurally important calcium ions weakens cell membranes and makes them more inclined to develop temporary pores and leak. When this happens to lysosome membranes, they leak digestive enzymes that then damage the cell’s DNA.
Having said that, most of the severely damaged cells will die naturally, but others may remain as clones of aberrant but benign cells that increase in number with increasing exposure to the radiation. However, we would expect some to be genetically unstable and mutate, with natural selection favoring the more rapidly growing and aggressive ones until we get a full-blown cancer. But even then, the immune system should be able to nip it in the bud; that is until the immune system fails due to old age or is compromised in some way. Consequently, the likelihood of developing mobile phone-related cancer will depend on genotype, duration of exposure and the state of the immune system.
However, the reported effects of living within a few hundred metres of a base station cannot be explained so easily. The low signal strength at this distance demands an exquisitely sensitive mechanism to detect the radiation. Unfortunately (for us) there is such a mechanism. It lies in the magnetically sensitive pigment cryptochrome. The cryptochromes are a family of pigments present in virtually all animals, plants and some bacteria. They are used to sense the presence of light, or the direction of the Earth’s magnetic field in animals that use it for navigation. They also form an integral part of the biological clock that controls their circadian rhythms.
Put very simply, cryptochromes can measure magnetic fields because they absorb light and use its energy to drive an electron between two parts of the molecule to form a pair of magnetic free radicals. The electron then finds its way back, but the process is delayed by any external magnetic field, so that the amount of pigment in the free radical form at any one time is a measure of the field. Much of the cryptochrome is in the eye, where its different orientations in the curve of the retina probably enables migratory animals to “see” the field possibly, as an extra colour superimposed on their fields of vision.
Ritz et al. demonstrated this very clearly, when they showed that robins were able to orient in the geomagnetic field when given light of the wavelengths absorbed by cryptochrome. However, even more significantly, they found that oscillating electromagnetic fields within the range 0.1-10MHz at 0.085 microtesla (about 500 times weaker than the Earth’s steady field) completely disrupted the system and the birds were unable to orient. (Ritz et al. Nature. Vol. 249 13th May 2004). It may be significant that this range of frequencies includes the bit-rates (rates of transmission of individual digital pulses) of many forms of digital wireless communications, including mobile phones, DECT cordless phones and Wifi. It seems likely that these forms of low level radiation may also interfere with the birds’ ability to navigate.
We humans have no natural ability to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field, and we sense light to synchronise our circadian rhythms using melanopsin. But we still have cryptochromes, much of it concentrated in the pineal gland, where, in conjunction with the suprachiasmatic nucleus, it appears to regulate the biological clock that leads to the rhythmic production of melatonin. Much of the work on the biological clock has been done on mutants of the fruit fly Drosophila, and this too appears to be affected by magnetic fields (see Yoshii et al. 2009 http://tinyurl.com/cx7xaa ). They did not test oscillating fields, but a 300microtesla steady field could alter the rhythm of the clock or even stop it altogether.
The main significance of the biological clock for humans is that it controls our natural circadian rhythms, which enable us to anticipate the coming of dawn and dusk and diverts our body’s resources to meet the demands of the new conditions. Many aspects of metabolism are controlled in this way; for example, during the day they are diverted to physical activity, but at night they are diverted more to the immune system and repair. If the rhythm were to fail or become weakened in amplitude, no process controlled by the clock would ever be able to function with maximum power. In particular, the immune system may never be able to summon the overwhelming power that is sometimes needed to overcome infection or cancer cells before they get out of control.
There is considerable anecdotal evidence for a weakened circadian rhythm in people living close to mobile phone masts, which include tiredness and loss of concentration during the day and poor sleep at night. The disruption of melatonin production during prolonged exposure to power line fields has been reviewed by Henshaw and Reiter (Bioelectromagnetics Supplement 7S86-S97 (2005)) and they argue that the effect on the rhythm may be similar to light.
The notion that weak electromagnetic fields have an effect similar to light is disturbing to say the least. In a paper reviewing the disruption of circadian rhythms in shift workers and others exposed to nighttime illumination Navara and Nelson. (J Pineal Research 2007 (http://tinyurl.com/afgLjr)) report an increased risk of breast and other cancers and a whole range of other health effects including insulin resistance, coronary heart disease, hypertension and myocardial infarction.
This clearly needs further investigation, but on present evidence, people living, and in particular sleeping, near a mobile phone base station may be at far greater risk of developing cancer than someone who just makes the occasional brief mobile phone call.
walter May 12, 2009
I was a little concerned to read this statement in the lead article, which presumably represents the viewpoint of Cancer Research UK.
“There is no evidence that mobiles could affect our cells beyond heating them. ”
Is CRUK not aware of the following effects from lo-level (i.e. nothing to do with heat effects, or ionising radiation either) EM Radiation/mobiles?
1) Damage to DNA and chromosomes
2) Damage to the Blood-brain barrier
3) Reduction in melatonin (See attached file).
4) Oxidative stress
I’m too rushed to post links to the MANY studies supporting these effects. Presumably CR knows about this ‘open secret’ ?
Ed Yong May 18, 2009
We are indeed aware of these potential mechanisms, and we urge caution in interpreting the results of individual studies conducted on animals and laboratory-grown cells. Overreliance on in vitro or animal studies is especially problematic when, as we’ve discussed, human studies have yet to find a consistent health risk posed by mobile phone radiation.
To address your potential mechanisms in turn:
A very large number of papers have found that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from mobile phones do not damage DNA. Two papers that have found that such fields could break DNA and both are facing a fraud investigation. Last year, a university investigation concluded that the data from both papers had been fabricated and they should be retracted.
It’s noteworthy that a German group, who initially suggested that EMFs from mobile phones affected the blood-brain barrier, later disproved their own finding after they used laboratory-grown cells that more closely mimic the situation in living human brains.
The independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) concluded in their 2004 review: “Most studies in animals have not reported any RF-field-dependent responses on the brain and nervous system, particularly with regard to changes in gene expression and the permeability of the blood-brain barrier: the results of a recent high profile, but methodologically limited, study from Sweden fail to provide convincing evidence of a field-dependent effect on the blood-brain barrier.”
Again, the data are inconsistent. While the melatonin hypothesis has indeed been put forward, various studies have reported results that contradict it.
Out of the four mechanisms you proposed, this is perhaps the most contentious, in that some studies have found that low doses of radiofrequency radiation can lead to oxidative stress. Further research is warranted, but the effects are generally very small and again, we caution against reading too much into changes seen in laboratory conditions, which can often be trivial when considered in the context of actual living bodies. As an example, a Chinese study found that radiofrequency fields increased levels of Hsp70 protein, which could promote the growth of cancer cells. However, the study also found that this higher level of Hsp70 had no effect on the rate at which cells divided.
As AGNIR said, “Other biological changes in cells due to RF exposure, when found, are small, tending to be only just larger than the uncertainty in the precision of the measurement technique used. The implications for human health of any such biological changes can only be conjectured… The biological evidence suggests that RF fields do not cause mutation or initiate or promote tumour formation.”
However, we take your point that the original sentence was perhaps too strongly worded, and we have amended it to, “There is no consistent evidence that mobiles could affect our cells in a harmful way.”
walter May 26, 2009
Studies on Oxidative Stress from mobiles
Ed, Having initially denied effects like this, you now say that “Further research is warranted, but the effects are generally very small”.
But aren’t you worried that allegedly “small” (!) short term effects can cause larger long term effects?
You urge caution in interpretation. But you were so “cautious” that you didn’t even mention them!
Below is a list of some of the studies that unequivocally found oxidative stress from mobiles. Let’s look at some to see if this “caution” is justified.
What have we got: mostly rats, and human cells. Human platelets, human nostrils, human nitric oxide levels. Rat brain, rat hearts, rat retina, rat kidneys, rat nasal mucosa, rat endometrium and rat skin.
Ed, Assuming that all those studies must have a purpose, I think there is too much here to be dismissed, especially as these are only short term studies.
Oxidative stress from mobiles
1) Mobile EMF leads to oxidative stress in rats as measured by MDA, NO, ADA and reduced SOD and GSH, reversed by Ginko-biloba. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14734207
2) EMF from mobiles myocardial oxidative stress in rats (reversed by CAPE a components of honeybee propolis), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16342473
3) Mobile induced plasma LPO and reduced SOD, GSH-Px.
4) Mobile reduced DOS-1 in human blood platelets.
5) Simulated GSM MAST radiation well below ICNIRP limits led to MDA, reduced GSH, SOD in rats.
6) Mobile induced oxidative stress in rat retina. Melatonin vs CAPE, both reversed, Melatonin “won narrowly” on GSH.
7) EMF from mobile Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), oxidative stress in rat kidneys, CAPE reverses
8) Melatonin vs CAPE, mobile damage to rat kidneys, both reversed, Melatonin overall more effective
9) Mobile effects on rats kidneys, rats pre-treated with Melatonin were protected.
10) Nonlinear time window – effects of mobile on human blood platelets with respect to SOD-1 and MDA – after 1,5,7 mins, SOD-1 down, MDA up, but after 3 mins, the reverse.
11) Mobile radiation-induced increases in nitric oxide levels
12) Mobile radiation-induced increases in nitric oxide levels
13) 900 MHz mobile induced histopathologic changes and oxidative stress in rat endometrium: protection by vitamins E and C, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18536493
14) Modification of membrane fluidity in melanin-containing cells by 2.45-GHz pulsed microwaves, via superoxide dismutase. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?CMD=search&DB=pubmed
15) Oxidative stress-mediated skin damage in experimental mobile phone model can be prevented by melatonin.
16) GSM signals affect 53BP1 and gamma-H2AX foci in human lymphocytes, in EHS and healthy people.
17) 915 MHz microwaves induced responses in lymphocytes, similar to stress response induced by heat shock
18) Microwaves from UMTS/GSM mobile phones induce long-lasting inhibition of 53BP1/gamma-H2AX DNA repair foci in human lymphocytes, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18839414
19) Non-thermal activation of the hsp27/p38MAPK stress pathway by mobile phone radiation in human endothelial cells: molecular mechanism for cancer- and blood-brain barrier-related effects http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12076339
20) Mobile phone signals induce apoptosis and inactivation of the multi-chaperone complex in human epidermoid cancer cells, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15754340
21) Rat skin tissue changes, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15941010
22) Koylu 2006, Melatonin modulates 900 Mhz microwave-induced lipid peroxidation changes in rat brain. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/16898263
walter May 26, 2009
On Melatonin. There is, as you say ‘inconsistent’, evidence on effects of EMF on melatonin levels, but it becomes less inconsistent when long term exposure is considered, according to Professor Ross Reiter and Denis Henshaw.
Russel J. Reiter, PhD, professor of cellular and structural biology, has devoted nearly 30 years to pineal research and has become one of the foremost authorities on melatonin, http://www.uthscsa.edu/mission/spring95/brainmel.html
Reiter and Henshaw stress the difference between short term and long term exposure. They cite eleven studies here which in their words, show evidence of melatonin disruption
“In contrast to the volunteer studies with short-term exposure, there is now a body of studies involving either longer term or chronic magnetic field exposures which taken together show evidence of nocturnal melatonin disruption. These are listed in table 1…Overall, in table 1, eleven studies show evidence of melatonin disruption by power frequency magnetic fields and two by geomagnetic field disturbances. In some cases there is evidence of a dose response effect and disruption for exposures to fields below 0.3/0.4 μT.
[Do magnetic fields cause increased risk of childhood leukaemia via melatonin disruption?, 2005, http://www.electric-fields.bris.ac.uk/meldisrup.html%5D
The evidence as far as long term effects from power frequency magnetic fields are concerned, seems fairly strong.
There do not appear to be many long term studies of melatonin involving mobiles. Thanks for these four (negative) links, two of which however seem to be short term. With such small numbers in the 3 volunteer studies, it would have been quite difficult to reach 95% statistical significance (only 38, 9, 20 and the last one unspecified, respectively). There have been positive microwave studies too.
The positive EMF studies cited in Reiter and Henshaw are in general larger and of longer duration.
Given also that mobiles expose their users to magnetic fields, it’s surely not safe to dismiss long term effects of mobiles on the levels of the cancer-fighting agent melatonin.
walter May 26, 2009
Re: Blood-brain barrier studies, you say it is noteworthy that one positive study was later superceded, but again, there are many others.
I was therefore surprised to read this claim you give from AGNIR:
“Most studies in animals have not reported any RF-field-dependent responses on the brain and nervous system.. particularly with regard to changes in…. the permeability of the blood-brain barrier”
I believe this statement regarding the BBB to be incorrect. An online presentation Coghill “RF Radiation Blood Brain Barrier studies 1990-2004” gives the ratio of positive to negative studies (of effects of RF radiation on the BBB) as 9:2. http://anotherburnsidemast.com/Cellphone%20masts%20and%20health.pdf
Likewise in a quick search I found several positive studies, only two negatives though there may have been an additional more recent one.
AGNIR cite “A study from Sweden” presumably referring to Salford et al. But this team has since replicated their results in several studies, with continuous microwaves waves and various pulse frequencies, and found a dose-response.
The Salford team BBB research:
Nittby 2009, GSM-900 effects 7 days after exposure, and dose-response. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19345073
Eberhardt 2008, effects 14 days after exposure, nerve damage after 28 days
Nittby et al 2008. Describes effects on BBB as “demonstrated”
Grafström et al, 2008. Histopathological examinations of rat brains after long-term exposure to GSM-900 mobile phone radiation. (1 year, negative outcome) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18782606
Salford et al, 2003. Nerve cell damage in mammalian brain after exposure to microwaves from GSM mobile phones (two hours). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12782486
Persson et al, 1997. CW and MW pulsed at various frequencies. Significant difference all levels.
But the evidence for the microwave-BBB effect dates back much earlier. Richard Frey in 1998. “Second, the blood-brain barrier appears to be involved in headaches, and low intensity microwave energy exposure affects the barrier”. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9441959
Finally what about the fact that Russian studies in the 70s were reported to have established the BBB link? The Daily Express reported in 1999 that “…uncensored documents reveal that Soviet military scientists has successfully used microwaves of the type used by mobile phones to weaken the blood brain barrier. This is meant to protect the brain from harmful substances in the blood.”. The information in the documents are censored now though! Too late, cat-out-of-bag!?
Perhaps your information given on the effects on the BBB simply happened to be gathered at an unfortunate time point.. At any rate, it seems not to be valid nowadays. I’d be interested to know what you think about this.
walter May 26, 2009
Studies finding DNA damage from mobiles
Hi Ed. You say
“A very large number of papers have found that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from mobile phones do not damage DNA.”, and then mention two alleged ‘frauds’.
Given that many studies have found indirect DNA damage from mobiles, I’m not sure of the value of these points.
I’d like to mention these two studies that found DNA damage at low levels.
Garaj-Vrhovac 2008. DNA damage at ~6-8 v/m, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18214694.
Naturforsch 1992. MW at 2 v/m suppresses repair of radiation-induced damage.
These are interesting as such exposure levels are increasingly common, even in the home. Also the suppression of repair of radiation-induced damage is a good example of an indirect mechanism by which low level microwaves can harm DNA .
One more, hot off the presses:
“Electromagnetic fields stress living cells”, Blank and Goodman, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19268550
“While low energy EMF interacts with DNA to induce the stress response, increasing EMF energy in the RF range can lead to breaks in DNA strands.”
The many other studies that found DNA strand breaks – well I’ll leave this to the experts. These from Microwavenews:
• R.J. Aitken et al., “Impact of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation on DNA Integrity in the Male Germline,” International Journal of Andrology, 28, pp.171-179, 2005 (Australia);
• W. Baohong et al., “Studying the Synergistic Damage Effects Induced by 1.8 GHz Radiofrequency Field Radiation (RFR) with Four Chemical Mutagens on Human Lymphocyte DNA Using Comet Assay in Vitro,” Mutation Research, 578, pp.149-157, 2005 (China);
• W. Baohong et al., “Evaluating the Combinative Effects on Human Lymphocyte DNA Damage Induced by Ultraviolet Ray C Plus 1.8 GHz Microwaves Using Comet Assay in Vitro,” Toxicology, 232, pp.311-316, 2007 (China);
• G. Gandhi and Anita, “Genetic Damage in Mobile Phone Users: Some Preliminary Findings,” Indian Journal of Human Genetics, 11, pp.99-104, 2005 (India);
• J. Kim et al., “In Vitro Assessment of Clastogenicity of Mobile-Phone Radiation (835 MHz) Using the Alkaline Comet Assay and Chromosomal Aberration Test,” Environmental Toxicology, 23, pp.319-327, 2008 (Korea).
Many more on microwavenews link: http://www.microwavenews.com/
And more here, http://www.powerwatch.org.uk/rf/phones.asp#dna
As these must be upwards of thirty positive studies linked in total here, the issue of DNA damage from microwaves should not be ignored. As I said above, your amended statement that
“There is no consistent evidence that mobiles could affect our cells in a harmful way.”
needs further work, IMO.
walter May 23, 2009
Thank you for amending this statement:
“There is no evidence that mobiles could affect our cells beyond heating them.”
…as it was false and rin my view rather absurd. However, I think your amendment is still misleading:
“There is no consistent evidence that mobiles could affect our cells in a harmful way.”
As you now acknowledge that mobiles do affect cells, I believe you should try not to give the impression that they maybe don’t. It is whether this leads to harmful effects on health that you presumably dispute.
In your article and your response to my post, I’m still a bit concerned that you dismiss the available evidence so easily.
Here’s why I think it matters greatly.
Ignoring mobiles and EMF for the moment, presumably you would not dispute the following statements:
*Oxidative stress kills cells [1,2].
*Oxidative stress arises from free radicals .
*Melatonin is a potent scavenger of free radicals and an antioxidant .
*DNA damage can lead to cell death .
Given that there is evidence of such effects from EMF and mobiles, should your amended statement not read something like this:
“There are many ways in which mobiles COULD kill or adversely affect cells, but at present we dispute them all.” ?
Given the site is a resource for the public, I’d be far happier if you at least referred to the evidence for such effects, rather than write in a way that suggests it doesn’t exist.
 “the mechanism by which neurons die under conditions of oxidative stress remains largely unknown.”
 “Antioxidants such as glutathione provide protection from oxidative stress, which kills cells through the “uncontrolled reaction of lipids in the cells with oxygen–basically, burning them out,” says Swanson.”
 “Oxidative stress occurs when some molecules (oxidizing agents) take electrons from the others molecules or atoms. The substances that can exist with missing electrons, are called free radicals. Most of these free radicals are oxygen molecules or atoms.” http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/9-25-2001-4824.asp
 “If left unrepaired, oxidative DNA damage can lead to detrimental biological consequences in organisms, including cell death, mutations and transformation of cells to malignant cells”
Kathryn May 11, 2009
Mrs O’Connor says: “Dr Robert O Becker -twice nominated for the Nobel Prize..”
However, from the Nobel Prize own website:
“According to the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation, information about the nominations is not to be disclosed, publicly or privately, for a period of fifty years. The restriction not only concerns the nominees and nominators, but also investigations and opinions in the awarding of a prize. Nomination information older than fifty years is public. At this web site the Nomination Databases for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1901-1951 and for the Nobel Peace Prize, 1901-1955 are now available. Nomination Databases for the other prize categories will follow”
Eileen OConnor May 10, 2009
I am a trustee for the UK Radiation Research Trust
The Radiation Research Trust (RRT) are leading supporters of the precautionary approach to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) and as such advocate release of substantial research funds from Government and mobile phone industry while offering immediate protection and advice to the public.
The UK adopted the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection ‘ICNIRP’. However, the ICNIRP standard does not offer any form of protection other than from the heating effects of microwave radiation ‘shocks and burns’. In other words ICNIRP only protects your body from properties of high levels of elevated temperatures. A very substantial body of peer reviewed science clearly shows many biological changes have already happened. ICNIRP does not cover long term exposure.
Why I became involved –
I suffered for years with sleep problems, headaches, dizzy spells and vertigo only to be told by my doctors that It was stress or a virus. I eventually developed breast cancer at the age of 38 and discovered that I was living in a cancer cluster.
We now understand that we are not alone, there are many other people living in cancer clusters around phone masts in the UK and throughout the world. I had been living 100m from a phone mast and I now realise the symptoms reported to my doctor are known as a condition called electro sensitivity.
Wireless communication offers a large number of real and practical benefits to society but are the downsides being adequately considered?
In order to address the issues surrounding this debate the Radiation Research Trust organised a major conference on the 8th & 9th September, 2008 entitled:
‘Electromagnetic fields and health – a global issue’
This took place at the Royal Society, London.
The RRT invited speakers from ICNIRP, WHO, the Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and national bodies such as the UK Health Protection Agency and the MTHR.
They were joined by scientists, politicians, lawyers and concerned citizens, each offering differing viewpoints in order to encourage discussion around risk assessment.
Quote from UK Health Protection Agency Chairman – Sir William Stewart at the RRT Conference, 2008
“Since 2000 there has been a mass of publications, reports, observations, and views purporting at the very least to implicate phones/base stations as a cause of adverse health effects. At a time of uncertainty when more information is required, non-peer reviewed articles should not be ignored. Doing so is ridiculous. They may be right but unproven and/or offer pointers to be thought about and followed up.”
Many scientists presenting at the RRT conference reported children at risk.
“The potential risk to children’s health is very high and a completely new problem. Use of mobile phones for those under 18 or pregnant should be restricted.
Children have a unique vulnerability as they grow and develop; there are ‘windows of susceptibility’ periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats.
The existing standards cannot guarantee the safe, healthy development of the next generation.”
Professor Yury Grigoriev, Chairman of Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
International advice on children and mobile phones
Toronto’s Department of Public Health advised that children under eight should only use mobiles in emergencies and teenagers should limit calls to less than 10 minutes.
The Russian Ministry of Health says that young people under 18 should not use the devices.
UK Government Department of Health says children and young people under 16 should only use mobile phones for “essential purposes”.
Israel’s Health Ministry has advised caution.
Recently the French Government and Finnish governmental authority for the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) recommended restricting the use of mobile phones by children.
Advice from the May 2000 Stewart Report:
People can vary in their susceptibility to environmental hazards. It is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.
Base stations sited within or near school grounds, should not have a beam of greatest intensity that falls on any part of the school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents.
In 2004 Sir William stated that he believed that the evidence for possible harm has become stronger in the (almost) 5 years since the publication of his original IEGMP Report. He recommended that young people should be encouraged to minimise their use of mobile phones, and that children under 10 years old should not have one.
The UK government netted £22.47bn from the auction of mobile phone licences.
The sector generates over £15bn a year in taxes.
The Government has put around £6 million back into mobile telecommunication research to date. This represents just 0.04% of the tax revenues from a single year of operation – this seems totally disproportionate considering the level of concern for health effects.
Urgent guidance needed to protect public health
The rapid growth rate of mobile phones, phone masts, tetra and wireless communication systems, alongside various reports of possible adverse effects on health, has caused increased concern around the world over the potential effect of electromagnetic pollution on health and the environment.
At present the technology is being increasingly used with almost no precautionary guidance to the public
Is ICNIRP responsible?
Paolo Vecchia, Chairman for ICNIRP presented at the RRT conference in September, 2008.
In his presentation, he made it very clear that:
“the ICNIRP guidelines are neither mandatory prescriptions for safety, the “last word” on the issue nor are they defensive walls for Industry or others.”
This statement makes it clear that the decision to adopt these guidelines into national legislation as “sufficient to protect public health” is political.
The government’s misuse of ICNIRP is the primary issue.
ICNIRP level = 42.5 – 61 V/m depending on frequency range what’s happening in other Counties?
The constitutional court in Brussels recently dismissed the phone companies and government appeals in order to avoid the risk of irreversible damage to the environment and public health. 2009 Decision taken to adopt 3V/m
Liechtenstein – Environmental Protection Law – exposure for standards based on the state of science or experience. Sensitive use where ever people regularly spend lengthy periods of time. e.g. apartments, schools, offices, hospitals & playgrounds. 2008 Decision taken to adopt 0.6 V/m
Salzburg – Inform public on dangers of mobile phone use in information campaign. 2008 Decision taken to adopt 0.06 V/m
Italian Decree Areas where people stay for 4 hours & more. 2003 Decision taken to adopt 6 V/m
Swiss ordinance for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection
places of sensitive use are where ever people regularly spend time. 1999 Decision taken to adopt from 4V/m – 6 V/m
Other reasons for concern:
An international working group of scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals produced the 2007 BioInitiative report. The report provides detailed scientific information on health impacts when people are exposed to electromagnetic radiation hundreds or even thousands of times below the ICNIRP guidelines.
The authors reviewed more than 2000 scientific studies and concluded that the existing public safety limits are inadequate to protect public health. From a public health policy standpoint, new public safety limits, and limits on further deployment of risky technologies are warranted based on the total weight of evidence.
MEPs voted The European Parliament approved the EMF resolution, prepared by MEP Frédérique Ries, on April 2, 2009.
The votes by the MEPs were: 559 for, 22 against and 8 abstentions.
Text to the adopted document available here:
The European Parliament “is greatly concerned at the Bio-Initiative international report which points in its conclusions to the health risks posed by emissions from devices such as mobile telephones, UMTS, WiFi, WiMax and Bluetooth, and also DECT telephones”.
The Reis Report contains some excellent recommendations and we congratulate the 559 MEP’s for voting in support of this resolution and taking this ethical approach to public health.
Medical Doctors are also campaigning for precaution.
A German study by a team of local medical doctors in Naila with data from over 10 years, discovered a threefold increase in new malignancies in people living up to 400m from a mast after five years exposure when compared to people living further away in the same town.
Israel – A small study by GP’s at the Kaplan Medical Centre, Israel, discovered a fourfold increase in cancer within 350m after long term exposure to a phone mast and a TENFOLD increase specifically in women.
Wolf D & Wolf D, 2004, Increase of Cancer near Cell-Phone Transmitter Station, Intanational Journal of Cancer Prevention 1-2, April 2004.
Finland: Helsinki Appeal 2005
The Helsinki Appeal 2005 from EMF Team Finland calls on the European Parliament to act promptly for the adoption of the new safety standard in the European Union. Physicians and researchers, feel great concern about the Precautionary Principle not being sufficiently applied to electromagnetic fields. They want the standards recommended by ICNIRP to be rejected, because recent scientific studies report various disturbances caused by mobile phone and other RF radiation. They also appeal to the European Community to take prompt measures for solving the refunding of the REFLEX project, which showed evidence of genotoxic effects of mobile phone radiation and should be continued:
The Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association believes that a sub-group of the population are particularly sensitive to exposure to different types of electro-magnetic radiation. The safe levels currently advised for exposure to this non-ionising radiation are based solely on its thermal effects. However, it is clear that this radiation also has non-thermal effects, which need to be taken into consideration when setting these safe levels. The electro-sensitivity experienced by some people results in a variety of distressing symptoms which must also be taken into account when setting safe levels for exposure to non-ionising radiation and when planning the siting of masts and transmitters.
Catania Resolution September 13-14, 2002, 16 world leading scientists at the International Conference State of the Research on Electromagnetic Fields, Scientific and Legal Issues, by ISPESL*, the University of Vienna, and the City of Catania, held in Catania (Italy) on September, 2002,
The Freiburger Appeal (2002)
An important appeal from German doctors and other health professionals, reporting an increase in observed cases of:
Learning, concentration, and behavioural disorders
Headaches, migraines, nervous and connective tissue pains,sleeplessness, daytime sleepiness, chronic exhaustion, extreme fluctuations in blood pressure, hard to influence with medication, heart rhythm disorders, brain-degenerative diseases and epilepsy
Cancerous afflictions: leukaemia, brain tumours.
After carefully-directed inquiry they found a clear temporal and spatial correlation between the appearance of disease and exposure to pulsed high-frequency microwave radiation from mobile phone masts, mobile and DECT phone use.
Furthermore, the Russians, Chinese and many other parts of Europe are rejecting ICNIRP standards and are concerned about the biological effects. The Ministry of Chinese Health revealed that in the last ten years studies on radiation similar to that emitted by the mobile phone industry have shown a majority of results are showing biological effects. Out of 154 studies, 88 or 57% have shown biological effects such as cancer, genetic molecular and cellular changes, electro physiology effects, behaviour changes etc. in a survey by Dr Henry Lai, Washington University, Seattle 2003. It said that the amount of evidence for biological effects and the characteristics of these are so alarming, that all efforts should be dedicated to find a way to minimize these effects.
China held an International Conference September 2005 in order to discuss and establish Asian Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ACNIRP). Research scientists have found that relatively low-level of RF (radio-frequency) radiation can lead to DNA breaks.
Benevento Resolution 2006
The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS) held an international conference entitled “The Precautionary EMF Approach: Rationale, Legislation and Implementation”, hosted by the City of Benevento, Italy, in February 2006. The meeting was dedicated to W. Ross Adey, M.D. (1922-2004). The scientists at the conference endorsed and extended the 2002 Catania Resolution and resolved that, among other things:
More evidence has accumulated suggesting that there are adverse health effects from occupational and public exposures to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields at current exposure levels. What is needed is a comprehensive, independent and transparent examination of the evidence pointing to this emerging, potential public health issue.
Resources for such an assessment are grossly inadequate despite the explosive growth of technologies for wireless communications as well as the huge ongoing investment in power transmission.
Arguments that weak (low intensity) EMF cannot affect biological systems do not represent the current spectrum of scientific opinion.
I strongly encourage Cancer Research to work with doctors and scientists who are calling for precaution in order to protect public health.
Please see details for a workshop to be held in Brazil in May, 2009. Please consider holding a similar event in order to create awareness for members of Cancer Research.
International Workshop on Non-Ionizing Radiation set for May 18-19, 2009 in Brazil
The health effects of electromagnetic fields are of concern among a growing number of scientists, medical doctors and citizens worldwide. Since the mid 1990s, humankind is becoming more reliant and more exposed to manmade EMF from electric power and wireless communications sources as part of daily life.
We would like to announce a workshop, entitled “International Non-Ionizing Radiation and Health Workshop – Brazil “, will be held on Monday 18th May and Tuesday 19th May 2009, at the Ministério Público do RS, Av. Aureliano de Figueredo Pinto 80, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.
The workshop will be under the sponsorship of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Brazilian Ministry of Health, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations. International researchers from several countries will deliver invited talks on selected topics. Researchers, public health authorities, as well as authorities representing legislative, executive and judiciary governmental bodies in Brazil, other South American countries, Europe, and the United States, are also invited.
According to the principal organizer, Dr. Alvaro A. de Salles, a professor at the Universidate Federal Du Rio Grande Del Do Sol., in Porto Alegre, Brazil, “This conference presents a unique opportunity for people to hear lectures that form the basis to initiate discussions among Brazilian and foreign scientists and public health authorities on the potential biological and health consequences of exposure to EMF, and to discuss exposure limits to minimize such hazards. We expect that it can result in a more informed public about a highly controversial matter that has enormous health implications for the general public and workers.”
For more information and to apply to attend, see http://www.ufrgs.br/ppgee/rni.htm.
In the words of – Dr Robert O. Becker – twice nominated for the Nobel Prize
“I have no doubt in my mind that at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields. I consider that to be far greater on a global scale, than warming, and the increase in chemical elements in the environment.’’
Mrs Eileen O’Connor
Trustee – EM Radiation Research Trust
Ed Yong May 12, 2009
In terms of the evidence surrounding mobile phones and cancer, little has changed since in the months since we first wrote this post. As before, studies have failed to find a link between mobile phone use and a variety of different cancers, as well as central nervous system disorders. While a minority of reports, including those linked to in the comment above, have suggested that long-term mobile phone use can increase the risk of brain cancers, these have numerous weaknesses that we have already gone through in earlier comments.
We stress again that only through a balanced overview of all the peer-reviewed research can real effects can be distinguished from chance or non-existent ones. Any policy decisions must rely on such studies, rather than unpublished data or personal opinions, even if they come from doctors or scientists.
The BioInitiative Report, once again raised as a supporting document, highlights some of the dangers in this approach. The report represents a biased view of the current scientific evidence and indeed, one of the report’s stated objectives is “to document the reasons why current public exposure standards for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation are no longer good enough to protect public health”. It has been criticised in more detail elsewhere, including by the Health Council of the Netherlands.
The comment above is full of arguments from authority, where quotes are presented in lieu of scientific data. For the sake of balance, here are some more quotes from expert bodies:
The World Health Organisation says, “Current scientific evidence indicates that exposure to RF fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, is unlikely to induce or promote cancers.”
The American Cancer Society says, “In summary, there is now considerable epidemiologic evidence that shows no consistent association between cell phone use and overall risk of brain cancer.”
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency says, “There is no clear evidence in the existing scientific literature that the use of mobile telephones poses a long-term public health hazard (although the possibility of a small risk cannot be ruled out).”
The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (an independent group set up to follow up concerns raised by the 2001 Stewart Report) says, “Reassuringly, no epidemiological association was found between short-term mobile phone use (less than ten years) and cancers of the brain and nervous system… Priorities will include work to assess whether long-term exposure (greater than ten years) increases the risk of developing cancers of the brain and nervous system.”
We have already acknowledged, both on our website and our blog, that there are still uncertainties in the data and there is most definitely scope for further research on any potential long-term risks. The outcomes of such research must necessarily be weighed and evaluated to see if any existing policies need altering or amending.
Finally, it is worth pointing out once again that various Governments around the world have advocated the precautionary approach for children and this is a stance we support.
walter May 25, 2009
You write “As before, studies have failed to find a link between mobile phone use and a variety of different cancers, as well as central nervous system disorders.”
You link to this paper “Risks for central nervous system diseases among mobile phone subscribers: a Danish retrospective cohort study.”
Just wanted to point out that the paper you link to actually did find CNS effects from mobile use.
It reports that the Standardized Hospitalization ratios (SHRs) “were increased by 10-20% for migraine and vertigo.” in both ordinary and long term mobile usage. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19194493
You will be aware that headaches and dizziness are frequently reported mobile phone complaints.
Ed Yong January 23, 2009
We’ve addressed this claim before (see the comment from me two up). To reiterate:
jess January 23, 2009
Children who use mobile phones are five times more likely to develop a type of brain tumour, research has suggested.
The Swedish study indicated that under-16s are more at risk of radiation from mobile phones because their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
Because their heads are smaller and their skulls are thinner the radiation penetrates deeper into their brains, it is believed.
After presenting their findings, the scientists said that children under 12 should only use mobiles for emergencies.
They added that teenagers should use hands-free devices and try to restrict themselves to texting.
But other researchers have cast doubt on the findings – saying that mobiles have not been on
the market long enough to test accurately the risks associated with them.
Around 90 per cent of under-16s in Britain have a mobile phone as do 40 per cent of primary school children.
Ed November 12, 2008
Regarding mobile phones and cancer, we recognise that there are problems with existing research on both sides of the debate. As you mention, there are controversies regarding the Danish cohort study and the INTERPHONE analyses and we have merely picked these as examples of the research around mobile phones and cancer, rather than relying on them as our sole sources of evidence. Considering all the available evidence, the majority of studies so far have failed to show that mobile phone use significantly increases the risk of cancer.
In your comments , you specifically refer to the work of Lennart Hardell’s team as evidence that mobile phones pose a cancer risk. We are aware of this research, but it too has its flaws. In the past, it has been criticised for weaknesses with its methods, publication of the same data-sets in multiple papers and interpreting non-significant results as positive evidence. I would recommend reading the review by the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, which critically analyses the group’s work in greater detail.
You say that children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones. This claim is based on a case-control study published by the Hardell group in 2004, where they reported that analogue phones increase the risk of brain tumours on the same side of the head in the 20-29-year age group by 5.91 times. Aside from the fact that analogue mobile phones are no longer used in the UK, the confidence interval for this result was 0.63 to 55, which means that it is not statistically significant. This is a really important point. Epidemiologists test for statistical significance so that they can rule out, or at least account for, the possibility that their results are simply down to chance factors. In this case, the fact that the lower boundary is less than one and that the higher boundary is so large suggests the result may not be a genuine reflection of increased risk.
You also note that some studies have shown that people have a higher risk of cancer on the side of the head that they hold their phone to. However, most of these studies have found no overall increased risk of cancer. If mobile phones are truly affecting the location of brain tumours, you would still expect to see this increased risk reflected in the overall analysis. And equally, many studies have not found any “side-of-head” effects. This effect is most likely due to recall bias, where cancer patients inaccurately remember their past exposures. Case-control studies are prone to this problem, and those concerning mobile phones may be particularly vulnerable, since people are likely to have heard about the possible connection with brain cancer in the media.
You also say that the Hardell group’s findings have an “internal consistency”, with higher risks for higher cumulative hours or use, number of years since first use and so on. Scientists refer to such patterns as “dose-response” effects; the greater the exposure, the higher the risk. But that is not what the group have found – they have suggested that specific groups (e.g. those who have spent the most hours on their phones) have higher risks of certain cancers, but they have not shown that the risk increases with exposure in a statistically significant way (this is called a trend analysis). Indeed, one of the major criticisms of the evidence supporting a link between mobile phones and cancer has been that studies have failed to show a dose-response effect.
The group has also split their data into hundreds of different subgroups (e.g. by hours of use, age or type of phone, and so on) and done separate analyses on these. Doing lots of sub-group analyses is a tricky business; if you do enough of them and split your data set down into ever smaller numbers then you will probably find a positive result through chance alone.
All this being said, we are not discounting mobile phones as an issue of interest. You will note that our Healthy Living website mentions the Government’s precautionary stance on mobile phone use among children and links to their documents; we also highlight that there is a lack of research in this age group. We note that mobile phones are still a young technology, that it is still too early to say if they pose a long-term risk, and that more research is needed. But we also note that so far, national incidence trends in brain cancer have not risen in association with the explosive rise in mobile phone use in the 1990s (although it is possible that such trends may only be noticeable after a longer time lag.)
We also note that there is still no firmly established mechanism to explain how mobile phone radiation could affect the risk of cancer. Recently, the only two studies which have suggested that mobile phone radiation could directly damage DNA have been retracted on allegations of research misconduct and fabricated results. It seems that in all areas, this is a controversial field of research!
For our part, Cancer Research UK will continue to focus its efforts on raising awareness of ways of reducing the risk of cancer that are backed by strong and consistent scientific evidence.
White man October 11, 2008
Right that is…