• 28 SEP 08
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    #959: Doctors at odds over mobile cancer risk

    From Jack Verbank:

    Sunday Age (Australia)


    Doctors at odds over mobile cancer risk
    “ Stephen Cauchi
    “ September 28, 2008

    HIGH-profile Sydney brain surgeon Charlie Teo has made enemies in his profession for many reasons, but not for his opinion on the link between mobile phones and brain tumours. On ABC TV’s Enough Rope last week, he was asked for his view on that topic by host Andrew Denton, and the response was chilling.

    “Personally, I think there probably is,” said Dr Teo. “There’s an association, and the association is quite compelling “ we know that EMR “” electromagnetic radiation “” is going to take at least 10 years to create brain tumours and probably longer, 15 to 20 years. So if you just pull out studies that have followed patients for more than 10 years, it becomes really, really compelling, that link.”

    Then, during the week, an even worse story from Europe. Lennart Hardell, of the University Hospital in Orebo, Sweden, told a conference on health and mobile phones that his team had found that “people who started mobile phone use before the age of 20 had more than a fivefold increase in glioma” “” glioma being one of the most common brain tumours. Even using a cordless home phone produced a fourfold risk of gliomas.

    Professor Hardell also told the conference, held at the Royal Society in London, that young mobile users additionally suffered a fivefold risk of a benign tumour called acoustic neuroma, which causes deafness.

    By contrast, people who were in their 20s before using mobiles were half as likely as teen users to contract gliomas and acoustic neuromas. This was because, he said, children’s skulls are thinner and allow mobile phone radiation to penetrate deeper.

    “It is very worrying,” said Professor Hardell. “We should be taking precautions.”

    “We may be facing a public health crisis in an epidemic of brain cancers as a result of mobile phone use,” conference attendee David Carpenter, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York, said.

    That means, given Australia’s rate of mobile usage “” among the world’s highest “” so would we. But the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association rejected Professor Hardell’s assertions, calling it “alarmist” research that “had not undergone a proper process of review by scientific peers”.

    “People can be confident there is no biological, medical or statistical basis to assert a link between mobile phone use and brain cancer,” said AMTA chief executive Chris Althaus. “The World Health Organisation’s most recent health advice says none of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure to the radio frequency fields from mobile phones and their base stations cause any adverse health consequences.”

    Commenting on the British Interphone study, Patricia McKinney, professor of pediatric epidemiology at Leeds University, said: “Overall, we found no raised risk of glioma (brain cancer) associated with regular mobile use and no association with time since first use, lifetime years of use, cumulative hours of use, or number of calls.”

    Mr Althaus also dismissed the idea that children were especially susceptible.

    Independent experts in Australia tend to back the AMTA’s view. David Hill, director of the Cancer Council of Victoria, noted that the Swedish research was not peer-reviewed.

    Cancer specialist Bruce Armstrong, of the University of Sydney, agrees. “I think it’s highly unlikely that that statement (fivefold risk of glioma) is true “ there’s no evidence of any substantial trend to an increase in risk of brain tumours in younger people in Australia.”

    A caveat: “If there is an increase in risk, children and younger people may be more susceptible to it than adults. One can’t rule out the possibility, but I wouldn’t think that five times would be probable.”

    But, irrespective of age group, is there any increase in the risk of getting a brain tumour as a result of using a mobile phone? “At this point in time the reviews “ have not drawn that conclusion,” Professor Hill said.

    “I see some evidence of an increase in risk but I don’t find it, as Charlie Teo says, ‘compelling’ “ even for people exposed for more than 10 years,” Professor Armstrong said. But, he warns, things may change. “There’s room for more data to come along and for the possibility of that evidence becoming compelling.”

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