Despite Report, Anxiety Persists Over Cell Phone-Brain Cancer Link

A four-country study rules out a connection, but some say there's still cause for concern

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Ever since people have been holding hunks of radiation-emitting plastic to their heads, they've wondered about the long-term consequences. The latest study found no link between brain cancer and cell phones, but still anxiety and skepticism persist. The report, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, did not find a discernible increase in cancer among populations in Northern Europe using cell phones over a period of 10 years. And yet, before the end of the year, the World Health Organization is expected to release a report that contradicts the findings of this week's study, and some doctors, scientists, and commentators warn that the findings may not be conclusive. Why some say there's still cause for concern.

  • Cell Phones Should Be Regulated Like Drugs  In the Huffington Post, Dr. Cara Natterson says there's still more research to be done before cell phones can be proven safe. And Natterson argues that the burden of proof should lie with the cell phone companies, as it does with drug companies. ""Cell phones should also be treated like drugs," she writes. "When a piece of technology stirs up enough controversy to be covered regularly in medical journals and newspapers alike, the standard should be applied."
As a doctor, I find it unbelievably--almost unbearably--ironic that the health and safety standards for prescription drugs are so different from those for emerging technologies. A new medicine must be proven to be safe. It cannot go out onto the market until it has been run through several levels of testing in the laboratory, in animal populations, and lastly in humans. The burden is placed upon the pharmaceutical company developing a drug and then, when the drug is prescribed, the burden is shared with the prescribing doctor. The drug is guilty until proven innocent. It is dangerous, toxic, rife with side effects until it is proven not to be. In fact, even if a drug is found to not have any negative effects, it is tested and retested until someone identifies a dose that does cause a problem. Guilty. Drugs are always guilty until proven innocent.
  • Cell Phones Can Still Be Harmful to Children  In the Huffington Post, Devra Davis, Ph.D says she is worried that American research does too little to protect the young. "Few parents know that radio-frequency signals reach much more deeply into children's thinner and smaller heads than ours -- a fact established through the pioneering work of professor Om P. Gandhi, the leader of the University of Utah's electrical engineering department."
  • Where Is the American Press on This Debate?  Paul Raeburn of Columbia's Knight Science Journalism Tracker says the American press is shirking its duty to report on an important story. "Let’s turn to the American press for the kind of quality science reporting we’ve come to expect from our colleagues. Let me see…I can find Australia. New Zealand comes up on Google. Ooh, this is embarrassing. Where is the U.S. press? I’ll be honest; I did a Google search. I didn’t take the time to look at dozens of U.S. newspaper websites. But I didn’t find anything. Anybody home out there?"
  • The Findings Are Not Conclusive  Katherine Harmon of The Scientific American reports that a simple "lack of correlation in these countries or elsewhere, however, doesn't clear the air of doubt—even in the researchers' minds." Harmon says some researchers are worried the study's "long-term" time period isn't long enough to catch slow-growing cancers. She reports that other scientists are convinced cell phones do have some physical impact.
Martin Blank, an associate professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, notes cell phones are most likely having some impact on biological processes. Exposing cells to radiation, for one, increases their stress responses, he says. Both he and Carpenter endorsed a report [pdf] this August that advocated greater caution in the use of cellular technology.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.