Meditations of an oncology geek

Cell phones part II

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4 June 2011

Image: Cell phones are hazardous to your health, but not because of cancer. User distraction is a common form of fatality, often involving motor vehicles or pedestrians. The data to support the cancer-cell phone link is about as laughable as this artist’s rendition.

Commentary Article

Because of the controversial World Health Organization ruling this week, I feel it is appropriate to re-post my article: Can Cellphones Cause Brain Cancer?

For all intents and purposes, the WHO is relying on paper-thin data in the Interphone study. A critique by an epidemiologist at Nature magazine summarizes the problem fairly well:

“There are standard criteria for assessing whether data from epidemiological studies show causality or not,” says Swerdlow. “The results for this study don’t get close to passing the standard tests for whether the results show causation.”

For a very straightforward, clear critique of the data and an explanation of why the Interphone study results cannot be taken at face value, I highly recommend reading this commentary from Nature News

This blog does not usually delve into controversial topics like this, but I feel I am obligated to point out how little data there is to support this link, and the dangers in endorsing paper-thin data. The WHO is highlighting outliers in their own study. Only the smallest sub-group of a subgroup of their data, when normalized for several factors, showed ANY increase in association between brain cancer and cell phone use.

It is important to note that within the Interphone study, there is actually more data to suggest a decreased association of cell phone use and brain cancer. Now, this is likely due to how they recruited their controls. All of the people in the “control” group (ones without brain cancer) used cell phones, while not all of their participants in their test group (ones with brain cancer) used cell phones.

It is also important to point out that some of the data was severely skewed by unrealistic self-reported amounts of cell phone use, such as 12 hours per day, every day.

There is a mountain of negative data to suggest that cell phones are not increasing the rates of brain cancer. For example: 2010 study from a reputable lab at the National Institute of Health examined the rates of brain cancer incidence from 1992 to 2006 (a time of much increased cell phone use) and found no correlation across the board. (1)

As I explained in my previous article, there has yet to be discovered any plausible mechanism for how cell phones could cause cancer. Cell phones emit non-ionizing radiation, the same type that come from radio broadcast towers.

I do not know any other way of saying it, but the “experts” on the issue are essentially giving lip service to hysteria, and the popular press is too short-sighted to investigate the matter. Science requires data, and if there is no reason to explain why many other studies show no link, there has to be substantial data to overcome that shortfall. The positive data is paper-thin, skewed at best and probably not real at all, and the negative data is monumental. There is no plausible mechanism to suggest causation, and there is no data to even suggest correlation.

Call phones are not causing people to die from cancer. Cell phones, however, ARE causing people to die from reckless driving (2). Let’s worry about the things that matter and let the issue of cell phones and brain cancer die.


p.s. If you are actually concerned about ionizing radiation (which doesn’t come from cell phones), please look at this very informative chart from the online comic xkcd.


Written by Ryon

June 4th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

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One Response to 'Cell phones part II'

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  1. Ryon, I shared your article with some friends, and a few questions came up, could you address these please?

    “…because of the time period of the study, no information is available on cancer risk for mobile-phone exposures longer than 15 years. The study notes that “the possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation.” -what about this?


    “INTERPHONE studied the effects of mobile-phone usage only in adults. It provides no information about the risk of children using mobile phones, which is one of the more controversial areas.” -what about the children??!!!!!?????

    Peter Borak

    5 Jun 11 at 11:22 am

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