Cell Phone Worries -
A Pain In The Brain
By Ian Harvey
Toronto Sun
Just hold the phone a second.
Officially, there is no link between cell phones and brain tumours. Unofficially, it ranks as the next biggest conspiracy next to who really shot JFK and, more recently, whether Princess Di was assassinated by the British Secret Service.
Anecdotal evidence abounds. There are lawsuits now filed on both sides of the Atlantic from people who claim they have developed brain tumours from using wireless telephones.
An oft-cited Australian study says mice exposed to cell phone waves were twice as likely to develop cancer. But while the conspiracists hold it as the smoking gun in the debate, the scientific community, including the most definitive study thus far, says the issue needs more investigation.
The Australian mice study did show higher rates of cancer but involved mice that were predisposed to cancer, said the article in Radiation Research, the journal of the Radiation Research Society (
"There is a need to replicate and extend this study," it says, arguing the data aren't reliable enough to predict tumours in humans.
And that's the problem in this high-stakes game: There is no definitive evidence of a link between tumours and cell phones.
At least not yet.
Can the radiation of PCS phones raise the temperature of human tissue and alter DNA enough to trigger a cancerous growth? Which type of radiation is more harmful? Are some people -- like the mice in the Australian study -- genetically predisposed to cancer from cell phones?
We don't know, so, in the meantime, we wait, although a few companies are using the fear generated by the issue to make a few bucks, selling metal condom-like devices for cellphones that claim to deflect the bulk of harmful radiation.
And at least one British scientist wants to sue his local telephone company for failing to put a warning label on their cell phones.
"In my opinion, and in the opinion of many scientists, anyone who uses a mobile telephone for more than 20 minutes at a time needs to have their brain tested," bio-electromagnetics scientist Roger Coghill told Reuters news service last month.
Despite our addiction to cell phone technology, the Canadian contribution is pretty minimal. The Royal Society of Canada, sort of a clearing house for the pursuit of science, was commissioned by Health Canada last September to determine whether the limits set by current regulation are suffiently safe.
Dr. Daniel Krewski, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of Ottawa is chairing a panel of scientists assembled from leading universities and hospitals across North America and says the study is on track and will report as expected by the end of March.
The group isn't doing any research of its own, relying on information already available but which groups like the Canadian Cancer Society and the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada say has yet to yield a definitive conclusion.
"The incidence of brain tumours -- especially the most serious type -- is increasing," said Sue Barnes of the Brain Tumour Foundation. "But we don't know why yet. We don't know if cell phones are connected because there's nothing conclusive."
That's a familiar lament in the field of tumours. We know also that testicular tumours are on the rise, but we don't know why -- although many environmental issues are being blamed, there's nothing conclusive.
In the interim, Krewski's not talking, except to say that "it's going well."
And given the claims of interference levelled at the wireless industry in the wake of other studies, perhaps his discretion is well placed.
Conspiracists claim other studies have been buried or otherwise tampered with in an attempt to squelch the facts. The hysteria is reaching cacophonic proportions.
And no wonder. There is no more ubiquitous a tech-toy than the cell phone, which has gone from being a symbol of corporate rank to being a common, everyday appliance.
With the continued breakneck growth of the industry and new toys on the horizon that will rely on similar technology to provide everything from low-level satellite telephone to wireless local service, sorting out what exposures are safe is critical.
And it could be devastatingly expensive to those with a stake in the digital wireless world.
Just ask the tobacco industry.