Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cancerous Cellphones?

Well.. that's certainly reassuring now isn't it.

"Huge Study Finds Cellphones Don't Raise Tumor Risk" the headline practically screams out at you.

Of course, if you read the fine print the story is a little different. The study followed people in Scandinavia over thirty years from the 1974 to 2003 over which time we saw a huge number of advances, both in terms of medicine and technology, including the widespread introduction of cell phones. Nevertheless, we are told, the rate of brain tumors did not increase significantly over this time frame.

The authors attribute this to one of a half dozen possible reasons including the supposition that the time frame needed to induce cancer is longer than the period studied. Or the fact that the increased risk is negligible. Hardly the definitive statement that the headline makes it out to be.

Part of the problem with many studies is the difficulty in properly finding an appropriate control population. In this study, there is no control at all however, simply a comparison with past rates of brain tumors. This type of study then is limited in assuming that in general, people's lifestyles and the world around them is relatively unchanging and so the rate of brain tumors should remain unchanged over thirty years.

Is it possible that the rate of brain tumors would have decreased over the last thirty years without the introduction of cell phones? Are cell phones mitigating that decrease? Are cell phones going to have a longer term effect on their users? This study cannot answer these questions, nor do I believe we'll obtain an answer without comparing a cell phone using population with a non-cell phone using population in the same nation.

Not that I really believe cellphones are dangerous to their users, there really is no evidence that they cause any cancer whatsoever. I'm just always annoyed by how the media tends to twist legitimate research into making some grandiose and definitive statements.

One thing is for certain however, as Professor Daniel Krewski says, this story isn't over yet.

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