Do Cell Phones Really Cause Brain Tumors; Latest Study Reveals the Truth

No association between brain tumors and cell phone use, long-term UK study finds.
cell phone use brain tumors

Human exposure to radiofrequency radiation predominantly due to cell phones has increased dramatically in recent years from the widespread use of mobile phones. Despite being a staple of modern life, the longstanding fear that cell phones may increase the chance of getting brain tumors has recently been reignited with the introduction of 5G (fifth generation) mobile wireless technologies. This technology was claimed to cause covid-19.

What’s new?

The results of an ongoing UK study (a study wherein subjects are enrolled before they develop the disease(s) in question) to evaluate the link between mobile phone use and brain tumor risk were published by researchers from Oxford Population Health and IARC. The findings indicate no association between increased risk of brain tumors and cell phone use.

Any link between phone use and brain tumors?

Conspiracy theorists have long claimed that radiofrequency radiation released by mobile phones penetrates the brain, with the parietal and the temporal lobes being the most vulnerable. The cancer-causing potential of mobile phones first became an issue in the 1990s. According to Cancer Research UK, in the 20 years that followed, the diagnosis of brain tumors increased by 39% in the United Kingdom.

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5g brain tumor
Do Cell Phones Really Cause Brain Tumors; Latest Study Reveals the Truth 4

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2021 declared that mobile phone users may be at a higher risk of developing brain tumors, classifying radiofrequency waves as “possibly carcinogenic.” But it admitted there was insufficient data to conclude, and larger studies have since failed to find a link, with experts believing the rise could be due to improved diagnosis.

Furthermore, most studies that have looked into this subject have been retrospective studies in which people report mobile phone use after a cancer diagnosis, meaning that the results may be biased. In 2018, the US government’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) published an influential study that found some evidence that cell phone radiation can cause cancer in animals. Those findings, however, sparked debate, with many experts claiming that experiments that exposed rats to high radiation doses for long periods are in no way comparable to the types of real-world exposures humans receive from mobile phones.

So, while it’s theoretically conceivable for cell phone radiation to trigger brain tumors, is this happening in the real world? To answer this question, scientists have combed through massive amounts of epidemiological data to see if there are rising rates of brain tumors in the general population. 

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The study

The researchers examined data from the UK 1 Million Women Study, a long-running study that enrolled one in every four women born in the United Kingdom between 1935 and 1950. In 2001, over 776,000 women filled out questionnaires about their mobile phone usage; about half were surveyed again in 2011. The subjects were later tracked for an average of 14 years with their NHS records linked. 

Doctor review brain images
Doctor reviews brain images by Rhoda Baer

At the beginning and end of the study, participants were asked about their mobile phone use. They compared the participant’s answers to their health records on both occasions. After being enrolled in the study, subjects were followed to see if they had developed three different types of brain tumors. These included meningioma (a type that occurs near your spine), pituitary adenomas, and acoustic neuromas. The researchers found that some factors, such as age and body mass index (BMI), Drinking alcohol, or smoking cigarettes, can also affect tumor risk. The study also looked into whether cell phone use was linked to an increased incidence of ocular cancers (eye tumors). 

Research results

Results showed that people who used a phone in some capacity throughout the ten years saw a 5 percent lower chance of developing brain cancer than those who never used one. The researchers found that women who used their phones daily over the period had a slightly higher chance (1%) of developing brain tumors. Those who don’t use their phone often were less likely to develop brain tumors than people that do.

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Over the 14 year follow-up period, they found that 0.41 percent of women who used a mobile phone went on to develop a brain tumor, compared to 0.44 percent who never used the devices.

Experts said the tiny differences in risk between the groups but they’re not significant enough to matter. Tumors in the temporal and parietal lobes, the most exposed areas of the brain, were among them.

Parietal lobe animation
Parietal lobe by Anatomography under CC BY-SA 2.1 JP

Glioma, auditory neuroma, meningioma, pituitary tumors, and ocular cancers all had the same risk. Those who used a cell phone daily spoke for at least 20 minutes a week and/or had used a mobile phone for more than ten years showed no increased risk of having any of these types of tumors. The study also showed that brain tumors were not more common on the side of the head where the phone was most commonly used. 

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“These results reinforce the data that mobile phone use does not increase brain tumor risk under normal conditions,” stated Kirstin Pirie, co-investigator, Oxford Population Health Cancer Epidemiology Unit.

Although the findings are encouraging, it is unclear whether the dangers linked with mobile phone use differ in individuals who use them much more than the average woman in this group. In this poll, only 18% of phone users said they talked on their phones for 30 minutes or more per week. Those who speak on their phones for long periods might limit their RF exposure by using hands-free kits or loudspeakers.

Although the study did not cover children or teenagers, other researchers have looked at the link between mobile phone use and the incidence of brain tumors in these age groups and found no association.

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Since there aren’t many frequent cell phone users in the dataset, heavy users should still be cautious and adopt hands-free choices. When comparing newer and older cell phones, Schüz also mentioned that modern smartphones release less radiation than earlier generations. 

IARC’s lead investigator, Joachim Schüz, said: “Mobile technologies are constantly improving, and the most current models emit far less output power. Despite the absence of evidence for heavy users, the suggestion that mobile phone users should limit needless exposures is a prudent precaution.”
The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK and reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This study proves that you should not be too worried about that cell phone in your hand, but you should perhaps start to worry about that diet coke instead.

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