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Brain Tumour Risk in Relation to Mobile Telephone Use: Results of the INTERPHONE International Case–control Study August 17, 2010

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Letters.
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Stelios A Zinelis
CHE Partner

The Interphone Study Group (2010)1 conducted a study on mobile telephone use has made this conclusion:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with the use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and errors prevent a causal interpretation.”

This study was completed in 2004, but for unknown reasons, the results were  published six years later, upon demand by scientific organisations such as the European Environment Agency and the European Union (2009)2 (which partially funded the study, along with the International Union against Cancer [Mobile Manufacturers Forum and GSM Association]),  who were concerned about the effects of mobile phone use on public health.

In contrast to the stated conclusion, their findings of increased risk of brain tumor-glioma after a cumulative call time of 1640 hours of mobile phone use and not meningioma were consistent with the natural history of these two tumors and may not be assumed to be brought by biases and errors. The meningiomas do not invade the brain tissue; as a result, they remain asymptomatic for many years until diagnosis is made. On the other hand, gliomas invade the brain tissue and are more likely to influence functional brain centers so diagnosis can be done earlier. In a meta-analysis review, Myung (2009)3 concluded that there is possible evidence linking mobile phone use to increased risk of having tumours from low-biased case-control studies.

Furthermore, the absence of a known biological mechanism should not be the main factor for holding back precaution measures that will better protect the public, even though a biological mechanism has been proposed (Friedman 2007)4. We may not know the mechanism for many diseases, but we treat, protect, and advise the public. Understanding the mechanism should be in parallel to providing better protection, since we may not know the answer for many years.

Also, for unknown reasons, the Interphone Group decided not to include in their analysis the findings of acoustic neuromas (Lonn 2004)5 as they do belong in the category of brain tumours.

They report that RF fields do not cause DNA damage in cells in culture.  But Ruediger (2009)6, in an analysis of 101 publications, presented  evidences that RF-EMF can change the genetic structure in vivo or in vitro in many ways-mediation by microthermal effects, formation of free radicals, and DNA -repair mechanisms. Also, Markova (2009)7 reported a possible mechanistic link to cancer risk.

They have given weight to their article by emphasising  that their findings are consistent with other Denmark studies (Johansen 20018 and Schuz 20069). But these studies had many methodology problems and would unlikely find any increase risk for brain tumours. For example, their basic requirement for including subjects in the study, the exclusion of- the most likely heavy users (cooperative subscribers) and finally the problem with classifications, could have underestimated the real risks.

In conclusion, even with these problems, this study does point toward a possible increased risk after at least 1,640 cumulative hours of exposure to cell phone use, which is consistent with the natural history of these brain tumours.

References

1. INTERPHONE Study Group. Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case–control study. International Journal of Epidemiology (advance access online 17 May, 2010, doi:10.1093/ije/dyq079).

2. European Parliament: Non-Legislative Resolution, 02/04/2010,    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5680652 (Accessed 19/07/2010).

3. Myung S-K, Ju W, McDonnell D D, Lee Yeon Ji, Kazinets G, Cheng C-T, Moskowitz J M. Mobile phone use and risks of tumors: a meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2009, 27(33): 5565-5572.

4. Friedman J, Kraus S, Hauptman Y, Schiff Y,  Seger R. Mechanism of short-term ERK activation by electromagnetic fields at mobile phone frequencies. Biochemestry Journal, 2007, 405: 559–568.

5. Lonn S, Ahlbom A, Hall P, Feychting M. Mobile phone use and the risk of acoustic neuroma. Epidemiology, 2004, 15(6): 653-659.

6. Ruediger H W. Genotoxic effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. Pathophysiology, 2009, 16(2-3):89-102.

7. Markova E, Malmgren Lars O G.,  Belyaev I Y. Microwaves from mobile phones inhibit 53BP1 focus formation in human stem cells stronger than in differentiated cells: possible mechanistic link to cancer risk. Environmental Health Perspectives doi: 10.1289/ehp.0900781, (available at http://dx.doi.org/) online 22 October 2009.

8. Johansen C, Boice J. Jr, McLaughlin J, Olsen J.  Cellular telephones and cancer—a nationwide cohort study in Denmark. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2001, 93(3): 203-207.

9. Schuz J, Jacobsen R, Olsen JH, Boice JD Jr, McLaughlin JK, Johansen C. Cellular telephone use and cancer risk: update of a nationwide  Danish cohort. Journal of the National  Cancer Institute, 2006, 98(23): 1707-1713.

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