Study Dismisses Phone Mast Cancer Scare

A new study has dismissed cancer concerns for children born near mobile phone masts, but some authorities are moving to respond to fears about radiation from the phones themselves.

The study should go some way to alleviate fears about mobile phone mast radiation, though many are concerned about radiation from masts and the phones themselves. The city of San Francisco has demand phone makers quote radiation levels from their devices.

Study checked childhood cancers

The study from Imperial College London sought to investigate the risk of early childhood cancers associated with the mother’s exposure to radio frequency from, and proximity to, macrocell mobile phone base stations (i.e. mobile phone masts) during pregnancy.

Researchers used statistical analysis of 7,000 children, and found those who developed cancer aged four or younger were no more likely to have a birth address close to a phone mobile mast than their peers. The study included 1,397 cancer cases for children aged up to four years old and who were registered with leukaemia or a tumour in either the brain or central nervous system between 1999 and 2001.

The researchers compared those those numbers with a control group, in order to establish the lack of risk, and published the results in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

“Radiofrequency fields are now ubiquitous, and several studies have assessed their potential health effects, with predominantly negative results,” said the BMJ in an editorial on the subject. “The study found no association between the risk of cancer in early childhood and exposure to a mobile phone base station during pregnancy.”

“The levels of individual exposure from transmitters are much lower than those from mobile phones, although the exposure to mobile phones clearly depends on the extent of usage and may involve different physiological effects. Nevertheless, anxiety about an environmental risk persists,” said the BMJ.

“Meanwhile, clinicians should reassure patients not to worry about proximity to mobile phone masts. Moving away from a mast, with all its stresses and costs, cannot be justified on health grounds in the light of current evidence,” it said.

Radiation Labels

Last week, San Francicso’s board of supervisors (i.e. their city council) voted 10-1 in favour of a law which requires retailers to display the amount of radiation given off by the mobile phones they sell.

San Francisco used a report by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) last September, which stated that “recent studies find significantly higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumours among people using cell phones for 10 years or longer.”

It found that the Motorola Droid, Blackberry Bold 9700, HTC Magic and LG Chocolate Touch topped its radiation charts.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • Dear Tom Jowitt, did you read all the way down to the studies "discussion" part?

    There you can find mention of the studies shortcomings - and they are rather serious.

    Examples:

    Study:
    "In addition, our models did not include information on other sources of radiofrequency exposure, such as from microcells or picocells, cordless phone base stations, maternal use of mobile/DECT phones during pregnancy, or radio and television transmitters (though distance from nearest radio and television transmitters was similar for cases and controls)."

    My comment:
    There's the very definition of a bias factor! Most of the controls have probably been blasted by cordless DECT phones, wifi, mobiles and smaller celltowers (micro & pico cells).
    Is anyone thinking what I'm thinking? that this exclusion of exposure sources, and only focusing on macrocell towers will include lots of microwave exposed controls into the study and create the same risk dilution effect as the W.H.O's INTERPHONE cellphone/cancer study managed to do...

    Then the researchers go on to admit that they hadn't a clue whether the mothers-to-be went to town, to the shops, to work or just down the pub... but journalists never read that far, do they?

    Study:
    "Neither were we able to take account of migration of the mother during pregnancy. Despite the large study size, such potential misclassification of exposure and migratory effects could have reduced the ability of the study to detect any true excess in risk."

    My comment:
    Yes, read that last bit again. It's basically a complete disclaimer for drawing conclusions from the study.

    Link to the study:
    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/340/jun22_1/c3077

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