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Link Between Cell Phone Use & Brain Cancer In Children?

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

More than 16 million teens and younger children have a cell phone planted next to their ears. Can cell phones cause brain tumors in children? It depends on whom you ask.

A new study says there is no relationship between cell phones and brain cancer in kids, critics of the study say the jury is still out.

The study’s authors compared the cell phone habits of nearly 1,000 children in Western Europe, including 352 with brain tumors and 646 without. Ages of participants in the study were 7 to 19 and residing in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, or Switzerland. In-person interviews with a parent present were used to estimate each person’s cell phone use, and if they were available- phone company records were used to confirm the data.

Kids who used cell phones were no more likely to develop a brain tumor than others, according to the study published in the online Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers, led by Denis Aydin of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, looked at their data in several ways, searching for possible trends with long-term use. They found no increase in brain tumors among children who had used cell phones for five years or more, according to the study, funded by European health agencies.

Researchers notes that radio frequency electromagnetic fields penetrate deeper into children’s skulls because their skulls are smaller. Recent studies have suggested that small children’s brains absorb about twice the amount of mobile phone energy as adults’ brains. But authors also point out that this energy – unlike the radiation given off by X-rays or CT scans -isn’t strong enough to damage DNA, cause mutations and lead to cancer.

The new study says that if cell phones caused brain tumors, those tumors would show up on the side of the brain -near the ear- that is most frequently used. They note that there has been no increase in brain tumors, among kids or adults, since cell phones came into widespread use in the 1990s. In a related editorial researchers said that were 285 cell phone subscribers in 2009 in the USA, and doctors would have noticed if cell phones were causing brain cancer.

Concerns about cell phones were renewed last month, when a branch of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, reversed its previous position. In the past, the agency had said there was “no conclusive evidence” linking cell phones to brain tumors. Now, the agency classifies cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic” based on “limited evidence,” acknowledging that the few links between cell phones and cancer could be due to chance.

The online magazine, The Atlantic, presents another look at the study. Two prominent environmental health groups, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Environmental Health Trust, believe the study is flawed. In the words of the Environmental Working Group, “Although parents are likely feeling reassured by the first media headlines about a new Swiss study of brain tumor risk in children using cell phones, the findings are actually quite troubling.”

Among the organization’s complaints are a failure to examine the consequences of long-term use and a weak definition of “regular” phone use. The EWG draws attention to a sentence from the study that indicates that when the researchers looked at the relatively small number of patients for whom phone company data were available, they found a “statistically significant trend of increasing risk with increasing time since first subscription.” In other words, the greater amount of time the children and adolescents had had their phones, the more likely they were to be at risk.

So who’s right? Like most studies – it’s hard to tell. Continued examination of cell phone use and a link to brain cancer is imperative since nearly every household has one.  If you are concerned about the possibility that there could be a link, the American Cancer Society offers these tips.

Use a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece. Using an earpiece moves the antenna away from the user’s head, which decreases the amount of RF waves that reach the head. Corded earpieces emit virtually 0 RF waves (although the phone itself still emits small amounts of RF waves that can reach parts of the body if close enough, such as on the waist or in a pocket). Bluetooth® earpieces have an SAR value of around 0.001 watts/kg (less than one thousandth the SAR limit for cell phones as set by the FDA and FCC).

Choose a phone with a low SAR value. Different models of phones can give off different levels of RF waves. One way to get information on the SAR level for a specific phone model is to find the FCC identification (ID) number for that model. The FCC ID number is usually somewhere on the phone, sometimes under the battery pack. Once you have the ID number, go to the following Web address: On this page, you will see instructions for entering the FCC ID number.

Limit your (and your children’s) cell phone use. One of the most obvious ways to limit exposure to RF waves from cell phones is to limit how much you use them. You may want to use your cell phone only for shorter conversations, or use it only when a conventional phone is not available.

Parents who are concerned about their children’s exposure should limit how much time they spend on the phone.

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