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January 19, 2011

Wireless and Cell Phones Increase Risk of Brain Tumors

In an ongoing controversy regarding whether cell phones and wireless phones can lead to brain tumors like astrocytoma, malignant gliomas, and benign acoustic neuromas, several recent studies published since 2009 containing long-term (10+ years) follow-up have lent support that it does.

The group at greatest risk for development of brain tumors have the following characteristics:

1) Use of cell/wireless phone younger than age 20 (the younger the age with first use, the worse the risk)
2) Use of cell/wireless phone for more than 10 years
3) The more hours of cellular phone use over time, the higher the risk of developing brain tumors
4) Risk higher with analog cell/wireless phones (instead of digital)
5) Risk higher with increased overall total exposure

By some estimates, subjects who used cell phones for at least 10 years had a 2.4-fold greater risk of developing a brain tumor.

Though unclear how exposure to a phone's microwave radiation leads to brain tumors, it is known that the cell signal is absorbed up to 2 inches into the adult skull. Even more worrisome is that the depth of penetration is even deeper in children.


The risk is not just to the brain, but even the parotid gland which sits just in front of the ear. In one study published in 2008 revealed an increased risk of parotid gland tumors with cell phone use. Also, contact allergy is another not uncommon risk with cell phone use.

Symptoms that a patient may exhibit that may suggest a brain tumor are subtle and include hearing loss or ringing of the ear on the same side the phone is used on.

It is interesting to note that it is just possible that the cell phone industry is aware of these risks even as it denies any risk of health problems with phone use. If you look in the small print booklet that comes with your cell phone, cell phone makers state that phones should not be in contact with your body or skin and should be kept a certain distance away when in use or when carrying around. Read more about this here.

However, all currently published results are based on retrospective studies and ideally, prospective studies will be required to provide more definitive results. However, that will take a long-time and perseverance on both the researchers as well as the subjects, since ideally, many of the study subjects should be children who are currently using cell phones.

In any case, to be on the safe side, it is recommended to talk on speakerphone or use a wired headset (not wireless), or avoid altogether if at all possible.

Even the CDC has had reservations regarding health risks due to cell phone use.


References:
Risk of Brain Tumors From Wireless Phone Use. Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography, 2010; 34 (6): 799 DOI: 10.1097/RCT.0b013e3181ed9b54

Cell phones and brain tumors: a review including the long-term epidemiologic data. Surg Neurol. 2009 Sep;72(3):205-14; discussion 214-5. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk for brain tumours. Int J Oncol. 2009 Jul;35(1):5-17.

Cell phone use and acoustic neuroma: the need for standardized questionnaires and access to industry data. Surg Neurol. 2009 Sep;72(3):216-22; discussion 222. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Cellular phone use and risk of benign and malignant parotid gland tumors--a nationwide case-control study. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Feb 15;167(4):457-67. Epub 2007 Dec 6.
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids. Google+ Christopher Chang, MD Bio

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