No Good Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Cancer
Recent reports have surfaced noting that cell phones appear to cause increased brain activity due to the non-ionizing radiation that they emit. This has rekindled the debate of whether or not cell phones are a causative factor for primary brain cancer. The official word on this can be found here, and suffice it to say that so far there has been no definitive proof.
I wanted to take a 30,000 foot view of the problem, by comparing primary brain cancer rates with cell phone usage in the United States. Note that “primary” means a central nervous system tumor that is not a metastasis from another site.
Below is a composite graph I created demonstrating the relationship. (Click for larger version)
It is a little confusing but I will explain. The blue line indicates the takeoff of cell phone subscribers in the U.S. over time. The scale for this line is on the left of the diagram. It reaches upwards of 200 million by 2007. The red sawtooth line is the incidence of primary brain cancers in the U.S. for the period 1975-2007. The scale for this line is on the right, and it shows that the incidence has varied between 5.8 and 7. This is the number of new cases of brain/central nervous system cancers per 100,000 people, and is age-adjusted.
Naturally, this question requires more detailed epidemiological analysis, but the early indication is that there is no obvious increase in brain cancer during the period that cell phone use became widespread. Rates could increase in the future if there is tissue damage that occurs over time, but to date that does not seem to be the case.
Like most other expert opinions in medicine, links such as “cell phone use and brain cancer” have to be taken with a grain of salt. The link between lung cancer and smoking was an epidemiologic triumph, but since that time, many other links have been discredited. Consider these:
Pancreatic cancer and coffee (No)
Hot dogs and childhood leukemia (No)
Vaccines and autism (No)
“Western diet” and cardiovascular disease (No)
Silicone breast implants and autoimmune disease (No)
For more, check out the book: The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine.
But before real science discredits the link, public impressions can be formed and can be very difficult to reverse through education. Often, representing the question with a simple graph can be easier to understand.
Subscriber data for 2007 was not available, so was estimated based on 2006/2008 data.
Cancer incidence from 2008-2010 not available, but data from the American Cancer Society estimate new cases of CNS malignancies at 22,000 for each of these three years, remaining stable when cell phone use has only increased.
- New study doesn’t show that mobile phones cause brain cancer (blogs.nature.com)
- Brain Cancer Risk Seems Unrelated To Cell Phone Use (lockergnome.com)
- Cell Phones Increase Brain Activity, Stirs Cancer Fears… (abcnews.go.com)
- British Study Finds No Link Between Cell Phones, Brain Tumors (nlm.nih.gov)
- Cell-phone use not related to increased brain cancer risk (scienceblog.com)