The Interphone study – costing over £15 million and out of date before it is published ? can the UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer's report tell us anything useful? 05/10


On May 18th the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer published the largest ever study (involving 20,000 people from 13 countries) on whether radiation from mobile phones causes brain cancer, but...

• The study excluded children, teenagers and young adults, among the heaviest mobile phone users and the most susceptible to damage. Other research suggests that mobile phone users who start using their phones before the age of 20 are five times more likely to develop the brain cancer, malignant glioma.

• Most of the people in the study had only used their phone for a few years whereas it is now well recognised that it can take upwards of 10 years for cancers to develop.

• Most of the the research was done prior to 2004, since when mobile phone usage has increased massively. (The findings would have been slightly more topical had publication not been delayed for four years while the scientists argued over how they should be presented.)

• There are serious questions over the data used in the study which was based on interviews with brain cancer victims and other healthy mobile phone users on their recollections of usage several years earlier (how many minutes a day,which side of the head did they hold the phone to, how often did they use their phone each week). How accurate are such recollections likely to be?

• Some of the results for short-term use appeared to show that mobile phones protect against cancer, which even the mobile phone industry agrees is unlikely, suggesting that the study design had serious flaws.

• The study excludes any consideration of cancers linked to phone masts, cancers in other parts of the body which could be linked to carrying phones in pockets of on belt loops, of the health effects of DECT cordless telephones.

However, despite all of its flaws, the headline which the study has spawned is:
'People who use their mobile phones for at least 30 minutes a day over ten years have a greater risk of developing brain cancer'– an acknowledgement by massive international study, 25% funded by the mobile phone industry, that a link between cancer mobile telephony does exist and that more research is urgently needed.

If nothing else this puts powder in the keg of those regulators across Europe and the US who have been, and are, calling for stricter regulation of phone usage, especially amongst children, greater controls on the siting of phone masts and on the ubiquitous use of wifi.

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

For those who are interested in the science behind the health effects of mobile telephony and suggestions as to how these effects could be mitigated, see Dr Andrew Goldsworthy's Witness Statement for the Standing Committee on Health of the Canadian House of Commons.

For pertinent comment in the Daily Telegraph – 21/5/10


More articles on mobile phones and masts

First Published in May 2010

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