August 2, 2011

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization warned that cellphone use by adults could possibly increase the risk of brain cancer in adults. However, no studies have found evidence that use of cellphones is a cause of cancer (one of the limitations with the  studies is that cellphone use is a relatively recent phenomenon so that long-term studies have been lacking). One concern is that when long-term studies of cellphone use are undertaken sometime in the future, valuable time to find ways of reducing the risk of brain cancer may be lost. Nonetheless, most past studies have been reassuring that there is presently a lack of evidence of an association between cellphone use and brain cancer.

Up to now, studies of cellphone use have been limited to adults. One concern regarding cellphone use among children is that their brains are still developing.

Now, the results of a recent study undertaken by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute with regard to cellphone use among children and adolescents have found that a few years of cellphone use by this population had not increased the risk of brain cancer among them. The Swiss study involved 352 children between the ages of 7 and 19 who had been diagnosed with brain cancer between 2004 and 2008 in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland. These children were asked about their prior cellphone use and compared this group with 646 healthy children.

The study found that about half of the children in both groups said they regularly used cellphones. The study found that the children who began using cellphones at least five years prior to their study participation were not at a higher risk of developing brain cancer than those children who reported that they never regularly used cellphones. The study found that the duration of cellphone calls, the number of cellphone calls made, and on which side of the head the cellphones were held made no statistically significant difference. Brain cancer in  children has not increased since cellphones became available to children. However, when the researchers checked cellphone company records for some of the children, those who had their cellphones the longest (three or more years) did have an increased risk.

The study researchers warned that their study was not large enough to rule out a small increased risk of brain cancer due to cellphone use, that cellphone use by children has increased since the end of the study period, and that the effect of long-term use of cellphones by children has not been studied. The study also noted that children tend to text more than they use cellphones for calls.

Until such time as more and longer studies of cellphone use by children and adults can be undertaken and concluded, people concerned about the risk of brain cancer as a result of cellphone use may consider limiting the use of cellphones and holding cellphones farther away from the head.


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