Together we will beat cancer

Donate

Mobile phones are in the news following the release of results from a US research programme that tested if a certain type of radiation given off by phones can cause cancer. As a result, headlines are claiming that there’s now “clear evidence” linking mobile phones to cancer.

What the headlines fail to mention is that the studies these news stories are based on were carried out in rats. Dig a little deeper in to the news reports and you will see that there is mention of the use of rats in the studies. But some people won’t look beyond the headlines.

The studies also used radiation doses far higher than what we’d experience in the real-world.

Together, this means that even with the latest findings, there’s still no convincing evidence that mobile phones cause cancer in people.

What did the study do?

Researchers from the US National Toxicology Program looked at the effects of exposing a small number of rats to radiofrequency radiation like that given out by mobile phones.

Rats were exposed to intense radiofrequency radiation throughout the body for 9 hours every day, for their whole lifetime. This is far beyond the length of time people would normally be exposed to. And most of the doses of radiation tested were far higher than those emitted by mobile phones.

This is a point Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, also highlights, saying: “The lowest radiation levels used were equal to the safety limits imposed on mobile phone manufacturers, for the radiation when one is actually using the phone. The higher doses for the animals were four times those limits.”

This means that these results cannot be translated outside of the lab and into your pocket.

What did the study show?

Increased cancer risk wasn’t found in rats exposed to the lowest, and more realistic, levels of radiation. But the researchers did find that male rats exposed to high levels of radiofrequency radiation were more likely to develop a type of heart tumour. This wasn’t seen in female rats, and the researchers couldn’t give a reason for the difference. And despite what the news reports might suggest, the study couldn’t rule out that the increase in risk of other tumours in the brain and adrenal glands was just down to chance.

The researchers also noted that male rats exposed to radiofrequency radiation lived longer. Cancer risk increases with age, so it’s plausible that these rats had a higher chance of developing cancer just because they lived longer.

What you need to know

Research into mobile phones and cancer isn’t new and is still ongoing. Large studies in people, such as the INTERPHONE study and the Million Women Study, have found no increased risk of cancer from using mobile phones.

And considering these previous studies were in people, this latest study in rats, using conditions that don’t match normal phone use, shouldn’t ring alarm bells.

Weilin Wu is a health information officer at Cancer Research UK

Read more: 6 tips to spot cancer ‘fake news’

Comments

Read our comment policy

Anthony B Miller, MD FRCP November 7, 2018

It would seem that Weilin Wu does not understand animal carcinogenicity studies.

In the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) study on rats, cell phone radiofrequency radiation caused cancer, as well as DNA damage. This is extremely relevant to humans, as all human carcinogens are also animal carcinogens. The exposure was given in high dosage, because it would be impossible in an experimental study to include very large numbers of animals to mimic exposure of human populations.

We have scientific evidence of an association between cell phone and cancer in humans. Epidemiology studies particularly in Sweden by the Hardell group , in France by Coureau et al and in the Interphone study, have shown that radiofrequency radiation at lower doses as at current, widely distributed exposure levels will induce cancer in an appreciable number of humans.

These studies on humans — not rats — were looking at the cell phone brain cancer association from data that is now a decade old. Remember that it takes years for scientists to perform and publish their research. All these long-term studies found that humans who are “heavy” users of cellular phones had higher risks for two types of tumors: a deadly type of brain cancer called glioblastoma and a tumor of the hearing nerve called a vestibular schwannoma also known as an acoustic neuroma. However, a person would fall into the category of “heavy” cell phone user in these studies if they used the cell phone to one side of their head for just around 30 minutes a day for ten years. The “heavy” cell phone users in these studies are the “light” users of today.

Teenagers use cell phones all day and sleep with them all night. Children are handed phones by busy parents who are unaware the phones emit radiation.

Can it be just a coincidence that the two types of cancers found in the NTP rats — schwannomas and gliomas — are the very same cell type of tumors found in long term cell phone human users, vestibular schwannomas and glioblastomas?

Statisticians and epidemiologists publish their peer reviewed research after extensive statistical analysis and expert peer review ensuring the associations are not merely “by chance.” Reports that refer to these findings as “statistical flukes” lack technical substantiation.

We test animals in order to predict effects on humans. This is how drugs are developed. Every compound known to cause cancer in humans also produces it in animals when adequately tested, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.

The National Toxicology Program’s positive results replicate positive results from the large Ramazzini animal study, which exposed rats for a lifetime to radiofrequency at much lower doses than the NTP study. Both studies found definite evidence of carcinogenicity. Both found the same tumors: schwannomas of the hearts in male rats. These important animal and human data added to our ever increasing knowledge of the mechanisms and published biological effects of non-ionizing radiofrequency radiation is sufficient to categorize wireless radiofrequency radiation as a Group 1 human carcinogen.

For Weilin Wu argue that what happens in rats does not apply to humans ignores a little known reality – regulations are based on research studies involving mostly rats, rabbits and small monkeys.

Furthermore, while regulatory limits are “intended” to account for children, the reality is that they do not do so. The scientific data clearly and repeatedly shows that this radiation penetrates more intensely into children’s bodies and brains. Such data were not available at that time.

Children’s brains are rapidly developing. A recent replication study that found memory damage in teenagers after just one year of cell phone use to the head should give the entire world pause.

It is time for voluntary and government health agencies to issue straightforward recommendations to the public on how people can reduce cell phone usage and wireless radiation at home. Policies to decrease our everyday exposures in neighborhoods, work and schools should be enacted. We must take action now to reduce wireless exposure to mankind to as low as reasonably achievable.

Anthony Miller MD, FRCP, FRCP (C), FFPH, FACE
Professor Emeritus, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Senior Medical Advisor, Environmental Health Trust, USA; Previous Director Epidemiology Unit, National Cancer Institute of Canada

Jeff King November 5, 2018

I am worried how Cancer Research loves to tell everyone that there is no risk associated with mobile phones. They also fail to mention the current guidelines is based on studies where research was done by industry funded studies and/or based on the idea of risk being associated with damage from the heat of the devices (what SARS is based on)

They fail to mention new research (and lots of it) which looks at the pulse effect causing more damage to cells than heat (this is mainly wifi and 4g)

In summary, I am very suspicious about how Cancer Research likes to tell people everything is ok, when more and more research suggests the opposite.

I am no expert, but if you do your own research, I am sure you will come to a viewpoint different to Cancer Research UK

Av November 5, 2018

Animal testing is frequently used as indicative of safety (e.g. cosmetics etc). The vastness and thoroughness of this study is ignored in the above article. If you go to youtube and search the main author of the study, he defends the study against the main criticisms that the media has tried to use to dismiss the study. Cancer Research are more interested in dismissing claims than hearing our those scientists who have spent their entire lives (i.e. it is their job!) researching this. Doesn’t seem a very balanced article in that regard.

Joshua Hoffman November 4, 2018

I guess the author intentionally left out that GBM (brain can associated with heavy cell phone use in most positive studies) has doubled since the introduction of cell phone’s in 1995. Either the author isn’t doing their research or is a telecomm lobbyist.

Jake Strong November 4, 2018

Cancer Research is COMPRISED with corporate money !!! Way too quick to dismiss findings. You people are sick and evil !!

Absolutely Disgusting.

Jake November 4, 2018

Cancer Research is COMPRISED with corporate money !!! Way too quick to dismiss findings. You people are sick and evil !!

Disgusting

Dan Honeyman November 3, 2018

What If you are wrong? Will cancer Research be liable for people phone usage for seemingly debunking these headline. Did you know that Lloyds of London (one of the biggest underwriters of insurance) has excluded any claims related to EMF’s and radiation from mobile phones? If the insurer won’t cover it they must be expecting ALOT of claims.

Gordon November 3, 2018

How many rats use mobiles? How many dogs drink eight pints of beer or smoke twenty fags a day? The folly of basing anything on animal research is, to me, transparent.