It is always useful to keep aware of new health research and updates regarding mobile phone usage.
Exactly 30 years ago last month, the world’s first mobile phone call was made – from a device weighing four kilos and costing £4,000.
The change in size, weight and cost of devices today has probably led to three-quarters of the human race owning a mobile device, the fastest growing technology on the planet.
Joel Moskowitz of the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health, US, says: “This is the largest technological experiment in the history of our species, with potential health risks we still know next to nothing about.”
This view is shared by Denis Henshaw, professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, UK, who said: “Vast numbers of people are using mobile phones and this could be a time bomb of health problems.”
However, over the past 20 years there has been a plethora of official reports on the safety of mobile phones and other wireless technologies, which have concluded that these devices pose no significant risk to health. Nevertheless, a group of scientists got together in the mid-2000s, calling themselves the BioInitiative Working Group.
This group, which largely consisted of wireless radiation researchers, has written a harsh reply as feedback to the reports. The reply lists a wide range of health effects scientists at the European Commission have either ignored or dismissed.
Today we’ll look at the list and some of the contributory comments.
Cancer is the obvious start. An early concern with mobile technology was clusters of the disease around those living near phone masts. One study in Israel found a 4.5-fold increase in cancers of all kinds in the immediate vicinity of a mast (Int. J. Cancer Prev., 2004). In 2009, a Korean team of researchers carried out a pool analysis of the results of 23 studies, which involved almost 38,000 subjects.
Over the past 20 years there has been a plethora of reports on the safety of mobile phones
A significant positive association was found in the studies that were blinded (researchers didn’t know who were mobile phone users and who weren’t). They found a “harmful effect” between mobiles and tumours of the brain, head and neck (J. Clin. Oncol., 2009).
Moving on to brain tumours, studies by five independent research groups have revealed significantly increased risks of a benign tumour of the cranial nerve supplying the ear. This grows slowly and must be removed in a major operation that can result in permanent facial paralysis. Other risks found were cancer of the glial cells (including neurons) of the nervous system and cancer of the meninges, the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord.
A French study carried out in 2014 by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research found almost three times more gliomas in long-term heavy mobile phone users (in some cases this stretched to six times more).
Japanese researchers found more than a threefold extra risk of acoustic neuromas in people using mobiles for more than 20 minutes a day for five years.
The most compelling evidence though comes from a Swedish team of cancer experts whose research stretches back 15 years. The results clearly demonstrate “a consistent association between long-term use of mobile and cordless phones and glioma and acoustic neuroma”.
Overall, they found that using a mobile for more than a decade significantly increases the risk of a malignant tumour by almost two times with an analogue cell phone and by nearly four times with a digital phone. Interestingly, the risks were even higher for people who had started using mobiles as teenagers.
In a separate study by the same Swedish team, they found more than seven times the risk among people using a mobile for more than 20 years and 6.5 times the risk for long-term users of cordless phones.
As expected, most of the gliomas and acoustic neuromas were on the same side of the head which was usually exposed to the phone. In the 2013 official report on the medical evidence for brain tumours, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that radiation from mobile phones is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
Breast cancer is an interesting health risk to link to a mobile phone. Studies linking phones to this type of cancer are weak. However, there is strong anecdotal evidence that mobiles carried in women’s bras can directly affect the breast tissue and cause cancer.
Last September, Californian oncologists reported four similar case histories of young women who had developed breast cancer in precisely the areas where they normally carried their smartphones.
What shocked the doctors was that these women were aged 21 to 39 and had no family history or other risk factors relating to cancer. All their cancers “had striking similarity, all tumours were hormone positive… (with) an extensive intraductal component and… near-identical morphology.” (CaseRepMed., 2013).
Next week, we will look at further health effects and pointers to using your mobile phone safely.