This story was printed from TODAYonline
Radiation: Just how bad is it for us?? Doctor links mobile phone use to malignant tumours here, but other experts disagree
Thursday ”¢ August 14, 2008
Tan Hui Leng
WELL-KNOWN neurosurgeon Keith Goh has seen an increase in the number of cases of malignant brain tumours and this is worrying him ”” especially as more and more are young adults, even children.
And his view on why this is happening goes to the heart of a long-raging controversy to which there are still no conclusive answers, and which divides fellow experts in Singapore: The effects of mobile phone radiation.
“It takes a few years for the tumours to develop, but there seems to be a good amount of evidence that the radiation that comes from the mobile phone contributes toward the development of brain tumours.
“I think we are at this stage in time just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Goh, best known to the public for his role in operations to separate conjoined twins: Nepalese pair Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha in 2001, and in 2003, Iranians Ladan and Laleh Bijani as well as a pair of Korean twins.
Since he began practicing neurosurgery in the 1990s, brain tumour cases were mainly in those 50 years and above. Today, he is seeing more adults in their 20s to their mid-40s, among both his local and foreign patients. In the last four months alone, Dr Goh has seen 12 new cases ”” the youngest aged two and four.
And this is not because detection has improved, he says. If it was, “we would be seeing more patients with small tumours but these are large tumours”. He estimates that a decade ago, 30 per cent of brain tumours would be malignant; now, it”™s 50 per cent.
Dr Goh is not the only expert who is concerned. Last month, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Dr Ronald Herberman, urged staff to keep phones always from their heads and to let children use them only in emergencies.
In a memo, he said: “We shouldn”™t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry.”
“No concrete link”™
Dr Goh is holding a forum here on Aug 23 on worldwide brain cancer incidence, its relation to mobile phone use and treatments. But his opinion ”” that there is a strong correlation with increased mobile phone usage ”” hardly represents a consensus, and various research studies worldwide have come to conflicting conclusions.
Neurosurgeon in private practice Ng Puay Yong, for one, thinks we should not worry as there is “no concrete data to show this (link)” between health and electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones.
Dr Ng said he has not seen any significant increase in the number of patients who come to him with brain tumours. The National Neuroscience Institute also has not seen a growth in the 150 or so brain tumour cases it gets each year.
From the physics point of view, Assistant Professor Vitali Zagorodnov, from the Nanyang Technological University”™s School of Computer Engineering, feels “there”™s no good reason why mobile phones should cause brain tumours”.
After all, the radio waves received and emitted by, say, television sets and microwave ovens are similar to that given out by mobile phones, he said. “There is no interaction between the radio-magnetic field and human tissue.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) should soon unveil the results of its own four-year study. But meanwhile, it states on its website that “current scientific evidence” signals that exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields, emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, “is unlikely to induce or promote cancers”.
Solid proof too late?
Even so, 54 engineering and medical scientists worldwide have signed the Venice Resolutionexpressing worry about the effects of electromagnetic fields on health.
While Dr Goh acknowledges that current research is only “suggestive”, he argues: “This is reminiscent of the early days of discussions over whether tobacco was harmful and could it cause cancer, as well as the concerns over asbestos and lead in products … Solid proof is too late when you have malignant tumour.”
The theory is that heat ”” generated by electromagnetic radiation when a mobile phone is in use ”” causes cell damage that results in brain tumours. Increasing exposure to RF waves from base stations could also have an effect.
But other factors have also been cited in relation to brain tumours, such as consuming fried bacon and smoking. Cancer in other parts of the body can also spread to the brain.
Health risk or not, Singaporeans could find it difficult to live without a mobile phone, given that the nation has one of the highest rates of mobile penetration. All mobile phones used here are tagged with Specific Absorption Rate values ”” a measurement of the amount of RF energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone ”” and comply with the WHO”™s recommended exposure standard.
If you are still concerned,Dr Goh advises using an earpiece and to avoid keeping a handset near your body.
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