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Cell Phones Don't Raise Cancer Risk for Kids

by Guy McCardle

August 11, 2011

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Donate A research study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, states that children and adolescents who use cell phones are at no greater risk of developing brain cancer than those who do not use the devices. It is the latest in a series of papers that find no link between the phones and brain tumors. The study examined those between the ages of 7 and 19. The research was the first to look specifically at children and the risk of cancer from cell phones. It addresses concerns that children may be more vulnerable than adults to health risks from the electromagnetic radiation of mobile phones.

The study was based out of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland and was led by Professor Martin Roosli. He is quoted as saying, “If mobile phone use would be a risk factor, you’d expect cancer patients to have a higher amount of usage”. Scientists have been eagerly awaiting these results, says Martha Linet, a doctor with the National Cancer Institute who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s very reassuring,” she says.

Roosli’s research, conducted between 2004 and 2008 in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, looked at phone use of 352 brain cancer patients and 646 control subjects. Almost 55 percent of the cancer patients reported regular mobile phone use compared with 51 percent of the control subjects, according to the study. “What we found was that there was no (significant) difference in the amount of use,” Roosli told Reuters, adding that if there is a risk “it would be a really small risk.”

In the study, researchers note that radio frequency electromagnetic fields created by cellphones penetrate deeper into children’s brains than adults’ brains, mainly because kids’ skulls are smaller. Recent studies have suggested that small children’s brains absorb about twice as much mobile phone energy as adults’ brains. However, authors point out, this type of energy (unlike the radiation given off by X-rays or CT scans) is not strong enough to damage the DNA and cause mutations that can lead to cancer.

If cellphones actually did cause brain tumors, one might propose those tumors would be found on the side of the head where the kids hold their phones. An editorial accompanying the research paper, written by scientists John Boice and Robert Tarone, states that in the new study children had the lowest risk of tumors in the part of the brain exposed to the most cellphone energy. They go on to note that there has been no increase in brain tumors (among kids or adults) since cellphones came into widespread use in the 1990s.

Pediatrician Rachel Vreeman, of the Indiana University School of Medicine, writes about pediatric cellphone usage in her recent book Don’t Cross Your Eyes… They’ll Get Stuck That Way!: And 75 Other Health Myths Debunked. She states that parents should find the results of this study reassuring. “This is a good piece of evidence that parents don’t need to be panicked about cellphones and cancer,” Vreeman says.

If parents still are not comfortable with their children using cell phones, the American Cancer Society recommends taking steps such as using hands free devices or the speakerphone function to reduce exposure to cellular energy.

by Guy McCardle

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