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Embargo break on cellphone-brain tumor study adds to controversy

May 17, 2010 | 10:45 am

Cellphone The controversial Interphone study-- the largest, longest study on whether cellphones increase the risk of brain tumors -- was due to be released Monday at 4:30 p.m. PDT, in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The embargo was broken over the weekend, however, and many fingers are pointing to the British media as the culprits. But it's obvious that stakeholders on both sides of the issue would like to shape the message from this confusing and problematic study.

The study showed no link to two types of brain tumors in adults but found a slightly increased risk of brain tumors among people who used wireless phones the most and the longest and who held their phones to the same side of their heads each time. The Mobile Manufacturers Forum, a wireless industry trade group, considers the study proof that cellphone technology is benign, saying in a news release that the study "provides significant further reassurance about the safety of mobile phones. The overall analysis is consistent with previous studies and the significant body of research, reporting no increased health risk from using mobile phones."

Janet Raloff, writing for Science News, notes that the manufacture's trade group provided some funding for the Interphone study -- one of the many criticisms of the Interphone study. Further, Raloff points out that the MMF's release doesn't exactly mirror the news coverage:

"This interpretation departs dramatically, however, from what several UK news organizations reported.
–  Says London’s Sunday Times online: 'People who use their mobile phones for at least 30 minutes a day for 10 years have a greater risk of developing brain cancer, a landmark study has found.' 
– The Telegraph noted in its story that 'The final results paper of the study, one quarter of which was funded by the mobile phone industry, has been delayed for four years while the authors argued over how to present the final conclusions . . .'
– A longer version of the above story by Mark Smith in the Scotsman leads off with: 'A major international study has found a link between mobile phone use and certain brain tumors.'

With such news accounts emerging, no wonder MMF wanted to put some calming interpretations out regarding the data."

The embargo break is unfortunate because it prevents news organizations, including The Times, from proceeding with a full accounting of the study from a variety of viewpoints. Critics of the study have also been clamoring for media attention. The Interphone study has many flaws, said Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health, School of Public Health, UC, Berkeley. In October, Moskowitz published a paper in the Journal of Clinical Oncology analyzing 23 studies on the link and finding that eight of the most scientifically rigorous of the studies showed a 10% to 30% increased risk of tumors among cellphone users compared with people who rarely or never used the phones.

The Interphone study, which was coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, reflects a much lower rate of cellphone usage than is common today, Moskowitz said in an interview Friday. Average cellphone users in the study used a wireless phone for an average of 2 to 2.5 hours a month -- compared with the average use presently of 21 minutes a day. Moreover, the study only examined adults, and data collected on two other types of tumors, on acoustic neuromas or salivary gland tumors, has not been released for unexplained reasons. The study also described people who used cordless phones but did not use cellphones as people who "never used" wireless technology. That could have also skewed the findings.

"We have known for some time that there were problems with methodology with this study," Moskowitz said. "Cellphone use has increased a great deal since this study has been done. The levels of use we're seeing today, the study doesn't bear on that. I think they really blew it."

A new study is set to begin, funded by the European Union, to investigate the risk of brain tumors among children and teens using cellphones. Cellphones may confer different risks on younger people, whose brains are still developing. However, many kids today text on cellphones more than talk.

Interphone leaves many questions unanswered. That makes it difficult for lawmakers in this country and elsewhere to weigh suggestions that cellphones carry health warning labels as a prudent step while further research on safety is conducted. An April report from the President's Cancer Panel, "Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk," lists as its No. 1 recommendation: "A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminates in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposures."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Jagadeesh NV / EPA

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Comments (8)

Offshore drilling was supposed to be safe, too...

It may be flawed, it may have biases, but in epidemiology, that’s going to be true (potentially) of every study. Yes it would be much better to use actual phone usage, but given that, what did this study find?

The headline results should be:
OR (odds ratio) of 1.4 (40% increase in glioma) for users over 1640 total hours.

Meningioma, OR was 0.5 for heaviest users using only analog phone, but 1.84 (95% CI (confidence interval) 1.17-2.88) for those using digital phones, and 4.43 (1.42-13.9) using both. This is just shocking.

Heaviest users ipsilateral glioma OR 1.96 (95% CI 1.22-3.16).
contralateral 1.25 (CI 0.64-2.42)
With glioma both analog and digital were elevated:
1.95 and 1.46 respectively.

How many tumor patients said they used > 5 hours per day?
patients: 38 controls :22
I compute p

This should not convince anyone that analog phones are safe, but if forced to choose between analog and digital, digital looks much worse.

Today’s release of the final results of the ten-year long World Health Organization INTERPHONE Study confirms previous reports showing what many experts have warned – that regular use of a cell phone by adults can significantly increase the risk of glioma by 40% with 1640 hours or more of use (this is about one-half hour per day over ten years). Tumors were more likely to occur on the side of the head most used for calling.

Public health warnings were raised in the BioInitiative Report on possible risks from cell phones and other exposures to electromagnetic fields (EMF) in 2007. It advised against the continuing deployment of sources of EMF and radiofrequency radiation from wireless technologies in advance of health studies, and argued for new biologically-based public safety limits to deal with emerging risks from new technologies. Results of the INTERPHONE study provide strong confirmation of the importance of these warnings.

The incidence of glioma has been increasing in recent years and a far more likely culprit is aspartame (ie the sweetener in diet soda's and other products). Indeed FDA scientists initially banned the marketing of aspartame precisely on the grounds of carcinogenicity, particularly ... brain tumors in rats. This position was later over-turned by the political leadership of FDA while the evidence both for carcinogenicity and myriad other deleterious health effects from aspartame exposure has continued to accumulate.

Anyone who uses a cell phone for business and pleasure will easily use up 350 minutes a month. Do the math. Within 6 months the risk for a brain tumor has met the limits. This alone is the most important fact to come out of the study. Why is there so much discrepancy in the SAR limits set around the world. The United States and Canada are the highest. The noise pollution that we are being exposed to needs to be addressed. If we can't win the argument for lower limits and safer technology; then citizens need to ban together and fight for the elimination of noise pollution and the nuisance it is causing by trespassing in to everyone's home causing a myriad of symptoms from insomnia, stress, nervous tension, lack of concentration, heart palpitations, to name a few. This IS a health hazard. The wireless industry and health agents, regulatory agencies can not bury their heads on this one. The noise is a constant microwave pulsing in our environment. It is a discrete background noise which is called a pure tone. Pure Tones are a health hazard to all living things. The EPA concluded this when establishing limits regarding pure tones in work places. If they were worried about an 8 hour work shift; then what the hell is it doing in our environment 24 hours a day non stop?????

I appreciate the sensitivity of Ms. Roan's report on the Interphone Study. Interested readers may want to go to the Microwave News website to see interviews with the various researchers and, more importantly, to see a discussion of the report's "emergency appendectomy" of key findings: When heavy users were compared to light users instead of the non-users (who turned out to be poor matches for cases), a doubling of glioma tumors was found, and the results were significant. Amazingly, this information was deleted from the published report as part of the compromise in order to gain consensus, and put into "Appendix 2" which has to be downloaded separately from the site where the study was published. This manipulation of the data is quite stunning. It seems the Mobile Manufacturers Forum has gotten its money's worth.

CTIA–The Wireless Association®, on behalf of the wireless industry, would like to highlight some third party health and scientific organizations statements about the Interphone Study.

World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer Interphone Project, Interphone Study Group:
“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation…Much biological research has been done in recent years on possible biological effects of RF fields. This work covers in vitro and in vivo exposure, alone and in combination with other physical or chemical agents, and has found no evidence that RF fields are carcinogenic in laboratory rodents or cause DNA damage in cells in culture.”

WHO Fact Sheet on Mobile Phones:
“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use.”

“Although research is ongoing, the Food and Drug Administra¬tion (FDA) says that available sci¬entific evidence—including World Health Organization (WHO) find¬ings released May 17, 2010—shows no increased health risk due to radio¬frequency (RF) energy, a form of elec¬tromagnetic radiation that is emitted by cell phones.”

National Institute of Health National Cancer Institute:
“Interphone, an international collaboration, and the largest study of its kind to date, reported that overall, cell phone users have no increased risk of two of the most common forms of brain cancer -- glioma and meningioma. Furthermore, there was no evidence of risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call time, or time since the start of the use of cell phones. However, for the small proportion of study participants who used cell phones the most – measured as cumulative call time over their lifetime – there was a suggestion of increased risk of glioma, though the authors call this finding inconclusive.”

Finally, CTIA has developed a website which provides additional information from around the world on this matter. Please visit:

By: John Walls, Vice President of Public Affairs for CTIA

Lloyd Morgan, B.Sc., lead author of the landmark report, "Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern", discusses the flaws in the Interphone study that render it unreliable as a gauge of risk of brain tumors from cell phones.

The 11 design flaws grossly understimate the risk, and even still, the Interphone study, just pubished in the International Journal of Epidemiology, still shows statistically significant increased risk of brain tumors after 10 years of cellphone use. This is ominous because toxicants often take decades to show tumor risks, and we are seeing it at just 10 years. Cell phone usage rates in the Interphone study were just a fraction of cell phone usage rates today among adults and children alike.

Finally, without explanation, results were not pubished for acoustic neuromas and salivary gland tumors which are the tumors closest to the ear against which one places the cell phone.

International EMF Collaborative Technical Analysis on Interphone Brain
Tumor Study

Why are the results from the Swedish team led by Dr. Lennart Hardell so very different than the Interphone Study?
A Swedish team led by Dr. Lennart Hardell has published results showing substantial risk of brain tumors from cellphone and cordless phone use.
These results are internally consistent to what would be expected, if cellphone are a risk of brain tumors. That is:
The higher the cumulative hours of wireless phone6 use, the higher the risk;
The higher the number of years since first wireless phone use, the higher the risk;
The higher the radiated power from cellphone use, the higher the risk;
The higher the exposure (use on the same side of head as the brain tumor), the higher the risk, and;
The younger the user at first use of wireless phones, the higher the risk.

Why does this Swedish team consistently find increased risk from brain tumor from cellphone use when the Interphone study does not find similar risk?

The answer is quite simple, the Swedish team does not have the two largest contributors to the systemic-protective-skew found in the Interphone Study: selection bias and treating cordless phone use as a non-exposure.

This Swedish team had an 89% participation rates of cases and controls, while the Interphone study had 77% and 63% participation of meningioma and
glioma cases respectively, and 39% participation of controls.

The Swedish team treated cordless phone use as an exposure, and the Interphone study treated cordless phone use as a non- exposure. (clearly ridiculous since it is an almost identical exposure)


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