A new study by Professor Simon Chapman et al which was published by Cancer Epidemiology has just been trumpeted in The Conversation and the Daily Mail as showing that cell phones don’t cause brain cancer.
But is this really the case?
The text of abstract alone gives rise to some observations and pertinent questions:
- Why was 10 years chosen for a cut off point for the Chapman study?
The new Chapman study was designed to detect a 50% increase in incidence in brain cancer assuming that this excess risk should show up at 10 years of cellular phone use.
By comparison, world renowned Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo (whose surgical skill has saved or extended the lives of many brain tumour patients) has been quoted (in 2008 as saying: “If you look at the science on mobile phones and the link with brain cancer, it is quite compelling … we know that [ionising] radiation causes cancer, but it takes about ten years for it to develop, so we know that electromagnetic radiation [from phones] is going to take at least ten years to create brain tumours and possibly longer fifteen, twenty years.” [emphasis added]
Moreover, a major study by Lennart Hardell and Michael Carlberg published in 2014, showed a significant increase in glioma (a common, and unfortunately often fatal, type of brain tumour) for people who used both mobile and cordless phones.
The 2014 study (published in the journal Pathophysiology) showed that the brain tumour risk was highest after 25 years of mobile phone use and after 15-20 years of cordless phone use.
According to the Chapman study, mobile phones were introduced into Australia 29 years ago. Given that the Hardell study shows that it takes 25 years (or more) exposure for the maximum increase in cell phone-related brain cancers to be detected, it is perhaps not surprising that the 2016 Chapman study did not find a significant excess risk.
According to the Chapman study abstract, cell phones were introduced into Australia in 1987 (only 29 years ago). While today over 90% of Australians are estimated to use a cell phone, at the time of the introduction of this technology to the country in 1987, only a small minority of people actually used a cell phone. (Even by 1993 only 9% of the population was estimated to use a cell phone.) On this basis, relatively few Australians would have had 25 years of exposure to cell phones over the period examined by the study and this would have biased the study towards a “no effect” result.
Was the Chapman study designed to reach the conclusion that cell phones don’t cause cancer?
There is no information about any of the authors’ possible conflicts of interest on the study abstract.
However, Professor Simon Chapman appears to have (or have had) links with the cellular phone industry.
He is the co-author of a paper that examined the impact of cellular phones in emergency situations. (The paper showed that cell phones can be of assistance in helping people get help quicker in emergencies such as car accidents or being lost in the bush.) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457598000347
The full text version of this paper acknowledges that funding for the study was provided by AMTA (Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association).
Simon Chapman is also the author of a book called Lifesavers and cellular samaritans : emergency use of cellular (mobile) phones in Australia.
In the worldcat.org listing for the book Simon Chapman is listed as the primary author, WN Schofield and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) are listed as being the second and third authors, respectively. AMTA is listed as being the publisher of the book. (See; http://www.worldcat.org/title/lifesavers-and-cellular-samaritans-emergency-use-of-cellular-mobile-phones-in-australia/oclc/225258977)
It is interesting, given this publication record, that Simon Chapman does not declare any conflict of interest in the relevant section of the paper. He could for example, have included a statement to the effect that he has received funding from a telecommunications industry body (AMTA) for a previous paper. On the other hand, I do not know the disclosure policy for the journal; perhaps authors are required to disclose only funding specifically relevant to the particular paper rather than the source(s) of funding for past work.
Regardless of whether Professor Simon Chapman does or does not have any telecommunications industry links that may (or may not) have biased his new paper, in my opinion, the media coverage of his 2016 paper is potentially extremely destructive to public health.
It is apparent from the Hardell studies that cellular and cordless phone risk are similar to cigarette smoking in that it can take decades of heavy smoking before lung cancer develops – and of course not all heavy smokers develop lung cancer, although they may suffer from other smoking-related conditions.
With an estimated 90% plus of Australians using cellular phones (and a similar proportion of people in NZ), twenty five years from now we could easily be looking at a significant number of people developing brain tumours that could have been avoided had there been clear public health messaging to avoid cordless and cellular phone use – except in an emergency.
As it is, the publicity given to Simon Chapman’s 2016 study means that most people are likely to believe that cellular phone use is safe. On the basis of the messages in the media relating to Simon Chapman’s 2016 study, they may even allow their children to use cellular phones, even though Hardell’s Pathophysiology paper showed that the risks from mobile (and cordless phone) use are higher in people who begin using these wireless phones prior to the age of twenty.
Today virtually everyone knows that smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer. (Based on US insurance statistics a white male who smokes has about 10 times the risk of developing lung cancer as a non-smoking white male.)
However, while the smoking-lung cancer connection is now so well known it is practically taken for granted, this was not always the case. For decades, as genuine research on smoking and disease was being published, so too was tobacco industry funded research also published. This industry sponsored research (aka “tobacco science”) caused confusion in the public and resulted in many people continuing to smoke because they believed that it was safe – and consequently caused many, many unnecessarily early deaths.
A failure by mainstream media to inform the public about the research that demonstrates links between cellular and cordless phone use and cancer could have the same tragic consequences.
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Cellular phone use safety tips:
I realise that many people do have jobs that require them to use a cellular phone.
There is information to help you reduce the risks of unavoidable cellular phone risk at this link: http://www.naturalmedicine.net.nz/childrens-health-and-development/how-to-reduce-your-exposure-to-emr/
Please note that ideally, cellular phone use should be minimised, because the more cellular phones are used, the more cellular phone infrastructure is need to support the phones’ use – and living close to cellular phone base stations has been associated with increased risk of cancer in several studies, for example, the one that you can read HERE.
Link to Daily Mail article:
Link to abstract of Prof. Simon Chapman et al’s 2016 study:
NB: If you are interested in the environment and health, you will no doubt find many of the articles in The NZ Journal of Natural Medicine to be of interest.
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