Talking on your mobile phone 16 minutes a day triggers cancer

January 2014’s issue of WDDTY retreads a long-standing zombie meme: that cell phone radiation causes cancer. If this were really the case then there would be epidemiological evidence, along the lines of that which tipped off Sir Richard DollW to the link between smoking and lung cancer. And there would be a plausible mechanism that didn’t rely on assuming that all “radiation” is equally mutagenic (when in fact it’s strongly dependent on the type, frequency and energy of the radiation).

Using your mobile (cell) phone for more than 16 minutes every day could cause cancer. It damages your cells, including your DNA, which is a major risk sign for the disease.

Saliva tests on heavy mobile-phone users—people who talk on their phones for a minimum of eight hours a month, or 16 minutes a day—have revealed the beginnings of cancerous activity. Oxidative stress has already started to change their body’s cells through toxic peroxide and free-radical damage, and this is a well-recognized risk factor for cancer. And many of the 20 users studied talked for considerably more than 16 minutes a day, with some using their phones for up to 40 hours a month, or 80 minutes a day, say researchers from Tel Aviv University.

To show the extent of oxidative stress, their saliva was compared against samples taken from deaf people who use their mobiles exclusively for texting.

And of course that’s the only possible difference between the two groups sampled, isn’t it?

What real research on mobile phones looks like.
What real research on mobile phones looks like. Pooled estimate on or slightly below the line depending on inclusion of Hardell

Needless to say this is a classic piece of WDDTY scaremongering. The source is Antioxid Redox Signal. 2013 Feb 20;18(6):622-7. doi: 10.1089/ars.2012.4751. Epub 2012 Oct 9. Is human saliva an indicator of the adverse health effects of using mobile phones? Hamzany Y, et. al.

Does it say that using your mobile phone for 16 minutes a day triggers cancer? No, it does not. Does it show that 16 hours is the magic number? No, it does not. Does it show any actual link between mobile phones and oxidative stress, versus just talking? No, it does not.

It’s an observational study on 20 people who have been using mobile phones for a while. Yes, 20 people.

And it comes to this sciencey-sounding conclusions:  These observations lead to the hypothesis that the use of mobile phones may cause oxidative stress and modify salivary function.

A hypothesis. About oxidative stress. Which WDDTY then interpret as a TRIGGER FOR CANCER, on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever. And let’s not forget that in fact most observational studies are wrong.

Let’s compare this with the advice from some sources that are actually reliable and review a massively larger evidence base. The charts at right show the results of various studies, of which only one group (Hardell) seems to consistently find any association – and even the Hardell group’s major report says: “There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation.” Some advice from independent, authoritative sources with no dog in the fight:

National Cancer Institute:

  • Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, which can be absorbed by tissues closest to where the phone is held.
  • The amount of radiofrequency energy a cell phone user is exposed to depends on the technology of the phone, the distance between the phone’s antenna and the user, the extent and type of use, and the user’s distance from cell phone towers.
  • Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck. More research is needed because cell phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly.

Cancer Research UK:

Looking at all the evidence together suggests that mobile phones do not increase the risk of brain tumours, or any other type of cancer.

The largest study so far on mobile phones and cancer is part of the Million Women Study and included around 790,000 women. It found no link between use of mobile phones and brain cancer in general or 18 other types of cancer. The researchers found no link between mobile phone use and risk of the two most common types of brain tumour (glioma and meningioma), but did see a raised risk of one rare type of brain tumour (acoustic neuroma) for women who had used mobile phones for at least five years. The scientists who ran this study think this result could be down to chance, because they investigated many different types of cancer. They also think that if there truly was an increased risk of acoustic neuroma with mobile phone use, this would cause a rise in rates of the disease in the general population. There has been no such rise over the last decade, when long-term use of mobile phones increased substantially. So for now there is some uncertainty over whether mobile phones might increase the risk of this rare type of tumour.

Mayo Clinic:

For now, no one knows if cellphones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there’s no convincing evidence that cellphone use increases the risk of cancer. If you’re concerned about the possible link between cellphones and cancer, consider limiting your use of cellphones — or use a speaker or hands-free device that places the cellphone antenna, which is typically in the cellphone itself, away from your head.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that mobile phones cause cancer?

Because the best evidence to date fails to support any such link.

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  1. Pingback: Daily Overload – News in short (25-12-2013) « The Skeptical Bear

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