Cell phones do not put young people at greater risk of brain cancer, study says

August 4, 2011

Perennial concerns about whether cell phones cause brain cancer often focus on children and adolescents. In the first-of-its-kind study, Swiss researchers found that answer is no, and they also offer some advice to parents who are anxious.

Perennial concerns about whether cell phones cause brain cancer often focus on children and adolescents. With their increased use of mobile devices, young people would seem to be more susceptible to those dangers with their developing nervous systems and smaller head circumferences, which allow radio frequency electromagnetic fields to penetrate more deeply.

A recent study should put some of those worries to rest.

Swiss researchers found that children and adolescents who use mobile phones are not at a statistically significant increased risk of brain cancer compared with their peers who do not use the devices.

In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers reviewed the medical records of children aged 7 to 19 years with brain tumors, identified through population registries. That information was supplemented with face-to-face interviews about mobile phone usage and data from phone network providers.

Some 352 patients with brain cancer and 646 controls from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland participated in the study from 2004 and 2008.

According to the research, patients with brain tumors were not statistically significantly more likely to have been regular mobile phone users than controls: 265 (75.3%) of case patients and 466 controls (72.1%) reported having spoken on a mobile phone more than 20 times before the time when the case patient was diagnosed. In addition, 194 case patients (55%) and 329 controls (51%) reported regular mobile phone usage.

A subset of study participants for whom operator-recorded data were available suggested that brain tumor risk was related to the time elapsed since the mobile phone subscription was started but not to amount of use. No increased risk of brain tumors was observed for brain areas receiving the highest amount of exposure.

 "Because we did not find a clear exposure-response relationship in most of these analyses, the available evidence does not support a causal association between the use of mobile phones and brain tumors,” said researchers who cautioned that the issue should continue to be monitored because of increasing usage of cell phones by young people.

The study has “filled an important gap in knowledge by showing no increased risk of brain tumors among children and adolescents who are regular cell phone users,” according to study commentary. The analysts found reassuring that the overall incidence rates of brain cancer, including in children and teenagers, have not changed over the past 20 years in the United States and many other countries despite the increasing use of cell phones since the 1980s.

For parents who remain concerned about the risk, pediatricians might recommend that children use an earpiece or the speaker to avoid holding the cell phone up to their ears, they say. They also say that cell phone usage has real, documented risks: Drivers, including teenagers, becoming distracted while talking on the telephone and causing accidents and injuries.

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